Peoria - A Nexus of Innovation & Entrepreneurship
A recently released study by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy, Advanced Research Technologies, and the Edward Lowe Foundation reviews the link between innovation, entrepreneurship, and regional economic growth. This study of 394 cities/regions in the United States attempts to rank regions based on the level of entrepreneurial and innovation activities. Previous studies have shown that both entrepreneurship (defined as new firms and growing firms) and innovation (defined as patents, research, development, and existence of high technology industries) are required for a region's economy to be positively impacted. Many communities throughout the United States have made large investments in innovation without seeing a direct economic benefit because there is no entrepreneurial activity to commercialize the innovation. Therefore, the combination of innovation and entrepreneurship is critical to economic growth in a region.
According to the study, Peoria is not a "nexus" of innovation and entrepreneurship. The report, covering the period from 1990 - 2001, ranked the Peoria region in the bottom quartile of 394 regions in the United States. Central Illinois cities such as Bloomington, Jacksonville, Decatur, Effingham, Galesburg, and Quincy also ranked in the bottom quartile.
Peoria's low score on the study's "Regional Entrepreneurship Index (REI)" is due to a variety of reasons which are not necessarily a negative for the local economy. First, Peoria's workforce is dominated by one major employer, Caterpillar.
In 2001, according to the Development Council for Central Illinois, almost 41% of Peoria's workforce was focused on manufacturing. This manufacturing focus of Peoria's economy stabilizes the economy and slows the growth of new firms, one category tracked in the study. The area's manufacturing base also falls mostly outside the study's definition of "high technology," which is another critical factor in the REI. Finally, during the 1990-2001 time period studied, Peoria did not have a regional plan for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Since 2001, Peoria's focus on innovation and entrepreneurship has changed considerably. PeoriaNext was founded in 2001 to make the Peoria area "nationally recognized and by 2015 as the preferred Midwestern location for research, innovation, development, and commercialization of science and technology in the areas of agriculture, engineering, bio-engineering and medicine." One step in this process is the high-technology business incubator planned for Main Street. The Turner Center for Entrepreneurship was also established in 2001 as a one stop shop for entrepreneurs and small businesses seeking assistance with starting or expanding their businesses. The Heartland Illinois Technology Enterprise Center (HITEC) was created in 2002 to work with businesses, researchers, inventors, and entrepreneurs to commercialize technologies. In 2004, the Novus Entrepreneur Network of Central Illinois was formed by Peoria area entrepreneurs to foster a greater entrepreneurial spirit and support network in central Illinois. Peoria is definitely becoming more entrepreneurial, but do the numbers bear it out? Faculty interested in researching Peoria's innovative and entrepreneurial growth since 2000 should contact Roger Luman at the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship as funding is available for academic research in this area.