Innovation is our key to success

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

An example of the Duryea automobile — the first mass-produced automobile in the United States, built right here — is currently on display at the Peoria Next Innovation Center.

It is hard to argue with Michael Rucker, president of the Peoria Regional Museum Society, who said: “This innovation center is a very appropriate place for it, as the Duryea was one of Peoria’s early innovations.”

But, there are those among us who view innovation as something that springs entirely from the individual.

Innovation may be born in the human mind — but it needs to be nurtured by a community to grow to its fullest potential.

That is where the rub arises for some residents who view spending tax money on efforts to grow our own as a waste.

Interestingly, according to Rucker, Charles Duryea — one of the inventors of the Duryea automobile, who did not meet with a great deal of success in his business dealings —  shortly before he died, said, “It doesn’t pay to pioneer.”

Let us all hope that sentiment never catches on like wildfire in Peoria.

Right now, belief in innovation is alive and well in Peoria. We need to nurture that sentiment.

It can be hard to hang onto such a sentiment during tough economic times. But, it is precisely during tough economic times that belief in our region and those who harbor big ideas needs the most nurturing. 

The Economic Development Council deserves some recognition for the fact this area’s leaders and business community have faith in innovation.

The EDC is at the forefront of nurturing innovation here.

The region saw this faith on display recently during a press conference about luring Google to build a small experimental fiber network with ultra high-speed broadband here. Dr. Jeff Huberman, dean of Bradley University’s Slane College of Communications, said, “In Peoria, we have the need for speed and we will pass Google’s test with straight As.”

According to Huberman, Bradley University is prepared for this with outstanding developers and users ready to see what can be born from the ultra high-speed network.

Speaking for the medical community, Dr. Andy Chiou, a faculty member at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, said faster Internet connections would have incredible benefits for health care.

“A tremendous amount of bandwidth is needed for medical imaging and with the Google fiber-optic network, sharing 3D medical imaging across the country will become a reality,” he said.

Who knows where the Greater Peoria Area’s innovators can go with the right tools?

But, tools are only part of the equation. Attitude is an important part of the mix to nurture innovation.

We also saw in many a decline in optimism about innovation with the reported bankruptcy of Firefly Energy.

The EDC recognizes the importance of attitude. Peoria NEXT is that realization in action.

“Peoria NEXT means intellectual wealth. The Peoria region is an environment ripe with opportunities for entrepreneurs and business investors. Fueled by multiple knowledge communities, business and discovery forums, and cutting edge Internet2 technology infrastructure, the wealth of intellectual property creates an environment where ideas become reality,” the EDC Web site says.

Peoria NEXT has brought together more than 300 Ph.D scientists engaged in research and development projects at state-of-the-art facilities.

The EDC has identified 10 targeted industry clusters to pursue for business growth in the Greater Peoria Area. One of the most exciting of those clusters is technology commercialization. 

The group overseeing this effort works to assist new and existing companies with access to capital and finding ways to grow their businesses.

That brings us right back to Charles Duryea. Before he soured on innovation and business, he made a speech in the late 1890s at Bradley Tech.

He predicted, “Peoria is to run thick with automobiles one of these years, whether you believe it or not.”

Few believed him. Look at Peoria, and the rest of the developed world, now.

The Duryea automobile on display at the Peoria Innovation Center should give all pause and time to consider Charles Duryea’s words — whether one decides to embrace his optimistic or pessimistic sentiments makes all the difference.