Big Table: Greater Peoria report focuses on entrepreneurship, inclusion

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The results from last fall’s community-building event The Big Table: Greater Peoria were announced Tuesday, highlighting the demographics and trends from conversations of nearly 700 residents from around the region.

The findings from the Oct. 15 event focused on four major areas: workforce development, diversity and inclusion, innovation and entrepreneurship, and quality of life and place. Small groups broke out and were led by trained volunteers. Conversations examined these topics from a regional perspective in order to generate ideas on how to create a healthy and thriving region.

One success story came from that meeting. A job was given to someone who was ready to take it. Daurice Boneta came prepared to the Big Table Greater Peoria meeting last October.

“I came with my resume, and guess what everyone? It worked,” Boneta said.

Daurice met with Enjoy Peoria’s CEO J.D. Dalfonso after the event and now works at the Peoria Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau as an administrative assistant.

“He didn’t take hiring me as a box to check off for the sake of diversity, are you hearing me in the room? The Big Table is a beginning. It’s not an end result, it’s not intended to be one meeting one time where we write things on the wall and then we quickly forget,” Boneta said.

Dr. Rita Ali, at-large councilwoman for Peoria City Council, says part of the Big Table is creating a Regional Workforce Alliance that offers opportunities for people to work and learn trades.

“There are some opportunities right now and some of it is provided through the Workforce Equity Initiative that Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth helped bring millions of dollars to the area and to the state. We are actually paying people to learn,” Dr. Ali said.

CEO of the Economic Development Council Chris Setti says these opportunities are for everyone.

“Working with people who kind of sometimes swirl through the system because they have these multiple barriers. Whether that’s transportation issues, substance-abuse issues, childcare issues,” Setti said.

Setti says words without action are meaningless. He hopes that more discussions enacting change can be had moving forward.

“We are thrilled to gather everyone back today to share the results of the Big Table: Greater Peoria,” said Audrey Kamm, Program Director at the Peoria CEO Council and Peoria Area Chamber’s YPGP. “This report provides insight to the broader community that will help us all propel our region forward.  This will continue to be a collaborative effort by all, and that is certainly something to celebrate.”

Participants rated workforce development on the following factors using a five-point scale where 1 = “strongly disagree” and 5 = “strongly agree.”

Survey results in terms of workforce development showed “A need to improve” was at a 4.74, “There are opportunities to improve” was at a 4.47, and “Demands have changed in the last decade” was at a 4.33.

In terms of diversity and inclusion, “There is a need to improve” was at a 4.73, “There are opportunities to improve” at 4.48, and “Demands have changed in the last decade” was at a 4.15.

“The Big Table was a gathering to launch civic engagement with people meeting their regional and community neighbors, shared resources and gained regional knowledge,” said Leigh Ann Brown, CEO & Executive Director of the Morton Economic Development Council and Morton Chamber of Commerce. “The data released will provide a tool for people, organizations and businesses to leverage for meaningful discussions informing action steps and regional collaboration. The framework of the Big Table can be used at many levels to move our region and people forward.”

Participants were asked to share words they would use to describe Peoria. Positive words included “healthcare,” “opportunity,” and “innovation,” while negative words included “uncertainty,” “declining population,” and “segregation.”

Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, said the October event “was an amazing gathering of citizens who care.”

“We are looking forward to sharing information about what we heard that day, but more importantly working together to take action on what we heard,” Setti said.

The organizations involved in future events include CEO Council, Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Black Business Alliance, LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, Peoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Morton Chamber of Commerce, East Peoria Chamber of Commerce, Pekin Chamber of Commerce, Washington Chamber of Commerce, and the Peoria Heights Chamber of Commerce.

Results from the Big Table showed 76% of participants feel optimistic about the next five years of growth in the region, 94% were satisfied with the Big Table experience, and 96% said they would attend the event in the future.

Due to the overwhelming response, future Big Table events will continue to happen to further generate feedback, ideas, and actions. Leaders said they can leverage the findings from the report to create a regional strategy to keep the Greater Peoria area healthy and thriving.

The full report can be viewed here.

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