A few weeks ago, Greater Peoria received some great news. U.S. Representative Darin LaHood announced that Illinois Central College was granted $3 million for their Workforce Sustainability Center. Combined with $7 million in local and state funds, the Center will house thirteen different workforce training programs. This includes HVAC installation and repair, solar panel installation, a new geothermal energy program, truck driver training, highway construction, machinist training, and computer-aided drafting. These programs will produce graduates in some of the region’s most in-demand careers.
The federal grant was made available by the Economic Development Administration (EDA), a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce. EDA may be one of the nation’s best kept secrets. Their mission statement is pretty clear (emphasis mine): “To lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting innovation and competitiveness, preparing American regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy.” To me, that middle section is the most important. For businesses to grow, they need the local infrastructure to work in their favor. Whether that is traditional infrastructure like roads, airports and bridges or training infrastructure like the Workforce Sustainability Center, EDA partners with local government to maximize success.
Greater Peoria EDC is this region’s link to our federal EDA partners. Over the decades, we have worked to build a great partnership with the agency. With their help, we organize and manage the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). This five-year strategic plan sets the course for how the region will tackle its economic development goals. The last CEDS was approved in 2016 (and can be viewed here) and we have started the process for a new CEDS to be completed in 2020. It is that CEDS plan that sets the stage for EDA investments. Any request for funding must align with the regional strategy. Previous grants have included $1 million to Tazewell County to improve Wagonseller Road in order for Excel Foundry to expand and $2 million to the City of Peoria to improve North University Street so that companies like ATS, G&D Integrated and Lynch Aluminum could grow.
The ICC grant started with a simple meeting: Darrin Fleener of EDA visited Peoria last fall to discuss our regional strategy and our needs. In a meeting with Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey and her staff, the conversation quickly turned to the need for more workforce training to match the region’s ability to produce skilled workers with the demand for them. This concept is embedded within Goal Three of our current CEDS: “Improve Human Capital.” The Workforce Sustainability Center was already in the planning process, but ICC did not have the funds to start and complete the project. Mr. Fleener saw the value of the project and how it fit within our overall plan to improve the regional economy. He worked with ICC and GPEDC staff to develop a proposal that aligned with EDA guidelines. ICC, with some help from our staff, then worked diligently to write an excellent request that resulted in the award.
We will soon be issuing a “call for projects” to the communities and institutions within Greater Peoria in order to gather information about other great ideas that might be eligible for EDA funding. The key criteria are that the projects be publicly controlled, aligned with the regional strategy, and have a clear connection to job growth. Be on the lookout for more information to come.
Economic development is a team sport and it’s great to have teammates like EDA in pursuit of a more vibrant Greater Peoria.
- – Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council