The Good News About Peoria

Mayor Jim Ardis - City of Peoria

This is the time of year when I present the annual State of the City address. I’m grateful for this opportunity to offer my perspective on matters facing Peoria’s city government, as well as issues impacting the entire metropolitan area. In contrast to media summaries of the pluses and minuses of the year past, my approach is to accentuate the positive. And in this regard, I want to commend iBi as it begin its 30th year. iBi provides a valuable forum for the discussion of topics relevant to the business community, as well as the larger citizenry who benefit from economic development, growth and prosperity. 

When I think about the opportunities this new year presents, my focus is on the quality and governance of local government; our competitiveness and innovation as a community; the achievements and successes of our employers; and the incredible volunteer spirit and generosity that characterizes Peoria as a vibrant and caring community. 

Strong Local Government
Democracy in action begins at the local level. Like other local governments in Illinois, Peoria’s city government has had to adjust the size and scope of its services to the realities of revenue expectations. While the recently-concluded budget deliberations were most challenging, solid and professional city management and robust city council discussions resulted in a balanced financial plan. The process was transparent, accessible, and to the best of our ability, practical. 

We are, of course, held accountable for our policy decisions as elected officials. In just a few weeks, a primary election will be held for at-large city council members, and on April 2nd, the general election will take place. Be sure to measure each candidate’s ability to understand the complexities of these budgets. We’re in a very difficult situation and on-the-job training is not ideal. With the retirement of Councilman Eric Turner after a quarter-century, we will have at least one new council member. I would like to publicly applaud his distinguished service to our community. 

Although tough decisions were made in completing the two-year budget, we maintained our hard-earned reputation for quality essential services such as fire protection, law enforcement and public works. And we did not lose sight of our strong, collaborative relationships with other units of local government, and I cite Peoria County in particular. There has never been a better relationship with our colleagues in the courthouse. 

Community Innovation
Our competitiveness and innovation as a community take many forms—in healthcare, education, manufacturing and agriculture, among other industries. To offer a few examples in healthcare alone, consider: 

  • OSF HealthCare ranked 46th of 500 among Forbes’ Best Employers in the Country—the highest-ranking Illinois company on the list; 
  • The University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria has the largest student population in its history; and 
  • UnityPoint Health – Methodist College continues to expand and diversify its curriculum offerings.

With this as a backdrop, 24/7 Wall St. named Peoria the 22nd most innovative city in the country. The dimensions of this distinction are exciting and diverse. They include Bradley University’s leadership of the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center, groundbreaking innovations at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, and the recent announcement of a proposed innovation hub, focused on improving access to services by underserved populations.

The Peoria Innovation Hub will be located downtown on Adams Street, across from the renovations taking place at OSF HealthCare’s new headquarters. Its founding partners are OSF HealthCare, the University of Illinois System, Illinois Central College and the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council. This outstanding collaborative effort is another strong element of our community’s continuing competitiveness. 

Speaking of excellence, innovation and competitiveness, consider that Bradley University is ranked sixth among “Regional Universities in the Midwest,” fifth in “Best Value Schools” and 14th among “Most Innovative Schools” by U.S. News & World Report. This is a national benchmark, and we join others in saluting Bradley’s continuing strength. In addition, congratulations to Dunlap School District for ranking 12th among the 408 best school districts in Illinois. 

A Selfless Citizenry
One of our core strengths as a community rests upon the selfless volunteer spirit and initiatives of our citizenry. Think of the thousands of residents who participate in the St. Jude Runs or volunteer for Children’s Hospital of Illinois, The Salvation Army, Easterseals and so many other essential human service providers. 

It’s not just the larger organizations, either. A few months ago, I mentioned Build Peoria and its work to help the Peoria Police Department’s residential officer program establish a home on the near north side. I am thankful for Sophia’s Kitchen, whose volunteers serve food daily so no one in our community goes hungry. Beginning last fall, Dream Center Peoria fostered a giving spirit through its “Love Peoria” initiative, helping many people through the holiday season by promoting unselfish acts of love and caring. Riverside Community Church, which founded the Dream Center, is a true gift to Peoria. 

And there are many other areas in which Peoria is a standout among its midsized metro peers. Instead of wringing our hands over our challenges, let’s roll up our sleeves and continue building on the positives, alleviating problems where we can, and give thanks for our diverse population, which makes us a truly great community. This is not to turn a blind eye to those challenges, but instead a call to focus on solutions. 

I’m thankful for the honor of serving as mayor, but more importantly, for being able to call myself a Peorian. With your support and participation, 2019 will be a banner year. Please join me in making it happen. iBi

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