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A Post-Pandemic Return to Better in Peoria, Illinois

By Jake Hamann

This week, Peoria Innovation Alliance announced a new campaign dedicated to “fundamentally shifting Greater Peoria’s economic landscape to one of opportunity and prosperity.” Founder and Executive Director Jake Hamann outlined the initiative and its importance amid the region’s response to COVID-19.

The Greater Peoria region has been affected much like other communities of our size. We are seeing the most significant challenges in the hospitality industry (restaurants, hotels, conventions, tourism, etc.) as well as a wide variety of small businesses; especially those in our minority communities.

However, shortly after the onset of our stay-at-home orders in March a collection of municipalities, economic development organizations and community leaders started to meet to develop a long-term community recovery strategy. 

This initiative quickly expanded into subgroups to address various components of our recovery, including a group I led which was focused on new business creation targeted at what we labeled as ESI’s (entrepreneurs, startups, innovation).

As this group has evolved, we have built America’s New Business Plan into one of our four key pillars and branded our movement as Return to Better. Those four key pillars are:

  1. Education & Programming
  2. Service Providers
  3. Innovation Fund
  4. Advocacy & Policy

Here’s a quick overview of how we’re positioning this campaign:

Return to Better is a tangible set of tools & resources created to seed, build, and grow entrepreneurs and companies in Greater Peoria. This balanced approach to nurturing businesses through multiple phases of their growth connects capital, education, and resources to measurable social and economic impact across our entire region. 

By closely modeling what has been successful in other cities like Cedar Rapids, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, we’re bringing together an early-stage evergreen investment fund, world-class programming and education, and a pool of reputable local service providers.

Along the way we’re advocating for the needs of the entrepreneur; sharing challenges and solutions with local policymakers and business leaders with the hopes to not only inform but transform our ecosystem.

Our Goal: Create an end-to-end experience aimed at meeting entrepreneurs, startups, and innovators at their point of need; enabling them to take the next step in their journey as easily and seamlessly as possible.

To summarize, our region’s response to COVID-19 has been intentional and focused on many of the right aspects of ensuring as successful of a recovery as possible. Where we’ll end up is yet to be seen, but continuing to prioritize the creation and support of new businesses is at least on the radar and a part of the conversation when it may not have been before.

Jake Hamann is founder & executive director of the Peoria Innovation Alliance. You can learn more about Return to Better here.

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