COLUMNS

DeWayne's World - 'It's better here' still works

DeWayne Bartels

The Heartland Partnership sent out a press release last week, stating, “People all across the country are starting to agree … It’s Better Here!”

That’s a signal that it’s time for another episode of “Let’s kick Peoria,” with the “Turn out the lights,” crowd.

I’ll grant the “lights” crowd that inhabit local blogs that some of their discontent is right on target, but, before we get into that, let’s look at some encouraging news.

I asked Jim McConoughey, president and CEO of The Heartland Partnership, if he could back up the “It’s better here,” mantra. He took the challenge.

McConoughey said he will soon be meeting with a group of economists. These economists have been looking at Peoria for a couple of years now so they can understand how Peoria’s economy works.

“There’s a myth that our economy lags the national economy. What we’re seeing is our economy is rebounding ahead of the national economy. The industries we have diversified into — higher education, health care and logistics — tend to kick back in sooner. We have a much more diversified economy,” he said.

“This is the caveat. Some of the jobs we’ve known in the past 10 years will not come back. People have got to get back to school and learn new skill sets or find new markets to use the skill sets they have. Sitting around waiting for jobs to come back is not a good idea.”

But, McConoughey tempered that, adding the area’s demographics show that households have diversified, with many more dual-income households.

“That provides a safety net which will help us recover faster,” McConoughey said.

Encouraging news about this area does not end there.

The Milken Institute recently ranked Peoria the 33rd Best-Performing City in the country (among the 200 largest metropolitan areas). That is a 10 spot jump up from last year. Milken’s Best-Performing Cities Index measures the most successful metropolitan areas in terms of job creation and retention, the quality of jobs being produced, and overall economic performance. Peoria is the highest ranking Illinois city on the list this year.

In recent months, CNN Money and Fortune Small Business ranked Peoria the fifth best mid-sized city to launch a small business (the 15th best overall city of any size). CNN Money.com, just last month, ranked Peoria as the fifth best place to launch a small business among midsize metropolitan areas.

“Peoria’s small business sector has boomed — even during the bad economy. More than 100 businesses have graduated from startup mode this year in industries like agriculture, medical device development, and the support-services sector,” Maggie Overfelt of CNN Money.com wrote.

Next Generation Consulting ranked Peoria the 16th best place in the nation to live and work for young professionals. Next Generation Consulting founder, Rebecca Ryan said, in June, the seven indexes they look at are earning, learning, vitality, around town, after hours, cost of lifestyle, and social capital.

“Simply being the cheapest place to live, or the city with the most jobs is not a long-term workforce strategy,” Ryan said on her Web site. “Although jobs are important, the next generation is very savvy about choosing where they’ll live. They look carefully at quality of life factors like how much time they’re going to spend in traffic commuting, if they can live near a park or hike-and-bike trail, and whether a city’s downtown stays awake after five.”

I’m encouraged by reading things like that. So is McConoughey. “The ability to get on these lists is not a game. You have to perform as a community,” he said. 

Now, the pessimistic crowd will surely scream that Peoria is a long way from being worthy of the praise being heaped on it by outsiders. Peoria does have some warts.

For example:

• When it comes to maneuvering difficult situations District 150 has the grace of a hippo.

• Arson appears to have become a vocation in the East Bluff.

• Laura Petelle has not turned out to be the messiah so many expected on the District 150 school board. But, it is kinda cool, when she uses highfalutin’ phrases in a school board meeting like, “This is crap.”

• The budget for the city is a mess, but getting tidier.

• Terry Knapp is about ready to burst a blood vessel over a proposed charter school that some supporters say will attract people back to Peoria from Dunlap, Morton and Metamora. Knapp got it right when he said, “Please,” to that. However, I’d like to have some of whatever the people saying that are drinking, please.

All in all, Peoria is still a very nice place to live, work and raise a family. 

Say I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid if you must, but, I, too, think it’s better here. Peoria is a pretty cool place.

The down on Peoria crowd should try moving to Pekin, Morton, East Peoria, Metamora or Washington. It won’t take long to discover they are not exactly Nirvana.