Recently, GPEDC issued its biennial “call for projects” to every mayor, village president and county board chair in the region. This initiative seeks information about local infrastructure projects that are designed to assist business growth and make our region more attractive to employers. Each submission is evaluated according to common criteria and included in the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). More importantly, it allows GPEDC to start investigating funding opportunities to turn ideas into realities.
Why is this important? Over the past two years, I have used this space to highlight some of the fundamentals of economic development and our regional economy. I’ve discussed the importance of a well-designed workforce development system. I’ve highlighted the foundational assets of our manufacturing and agricultural prowess. And I’ve noted how the region’s support of innovation and entrepreneurship will form the basis of our future.
However, there is something even more fundamental to economic growth: infrastructure. Just as the skeletal system serves to provide structure for the body’s growth, so too does our regional infrastructure ensure the growth of jobs and commerce. The word infrastructure conjures up images of traditional assets like roads and bridges. To be sure, these are absolutely fundamental considerations. But infrastructure also means our airports, railroads, river ports, and utilities like electricity, water and sewer. Increasingly we are seeing the value of great broadband infrastructure as businesses across industries are demanding high-speed connectivity. These are things that allow our businesses to launch, flourish and grow.
Although there are some exceptions, particularly around utilities and broadband, our local governments are responsible for the maintenance and expansion of infrastructure. These projects can be expensive and often more than a city or village can bear. Luckily, there a state and federal resources that can help share in this burden. Three years ago, the City of Peoria was awarded a $2 million federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant and a $2 million Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) grant to defray the $5 million cost of completely reconstructing N. University Street in the Pioneer Park industrial area. The City of Pekin was awarded $5.1 million from IDOT’s Competitive Freight Program to help with the $6.4 million reconstruction of Front Street, a main artery that serves companies like Pacific Ethanol. The City of Havana received $650,000 from EDA to cover half the cost of improving their city-owned industrial park. All these projects are vitally important to the companies in those areas and, by extension, the entire region, but would not have been possible without support from other sources.
While communities are free to submit any type of project for this process, historically the most successful submissions have involved infrastructure that impacts economic development. This could include construction or reconstruction of critical streets that lead to job creation; planning for a publicly-owned industrial park; or a study of solutions to public issues like utilities that are limiting job growth. Submitting an application is not a request for funding but a chance for a locality to develop and articulate its needs. Most importantly, it allows GPEDC to work with communities to identify potential state or federal funding. At the conclusion of the process, GPEDC hosts a “Funders Roundtable” where representatives from nearly a dozen state and federal agencies are given the chance to learn about the region’s top projects. One such agency is the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) which was recently charged with investing billions from the new state capital bill directly into economic development projects for public infrastructure, private infrastructure, and broadband expansion.
As infrastructure improves, so too do the chances of our local industries to grow and add jobs. GPEDC is proud to serve as the central coordinator of infrastructure project funding. If you have a project idea or just have more questions about how this process works, please do not hesitate to give me a call. The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2020.