PEORIA — Long-term diversification of economic development efforts in the Peoria region will blunt the long-term effects of the decision to move Caterpillar Inc. global headquarters to the Chicago area.
A cadre of elected and business officials pointed Thursday to already executed plans and programs currently underway as fundamental reasons why the moniker "Caterpillar global headquarters" is not the primary marketing tool to attract visitors and development.
"We're not a one-horse town anymore," said East Peoria Commissioner Gary Densberger at a Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce event called to address the imminent departure of Caterpillar's top executives. "We need to continue to diversify our local economy."
To that end, the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council recently initiated a new survey of the top employers in the region to better determine job prospects over the next two years and what skills potential employees will need to fill the positions.
"You can't meet a demand if you don't know what the demand is," said Jennifer Daly, CEO of the GPEDC.
The surveys went out in December and were due Tuesday, the same day Caterpillar informed its workers and the community that it would not build a new campus Downtown as planned and a new global headquarters with 300 employees, including top executives, would open in the Chicago area.
The results of the survey are an indication of the strength of other sectors in the local economy, Daly said. The region's 41 largest employers will create more than 9,200 new positions in the next 24 months.
"No region can stand on the shoulders of a single employer," Daly said. "Our region has been working for diversity and resiliency for decades."
The survey also showed plans for those companies to invest $125 million in the local economy for upcoming expansions. And the results will help agencies like the GPEDC tailor its education, training and development programs to prepare local labor for local employment, Daly said.
Every official who spoke Thursday lamented the Caterpillar decision, but they also pointed to that broader economic base as a sign of stability that continues to make the Peoria region attractive even without a certain title.
"I would challenge you to find a marketing piece that sells Peoria as the world headquarters of Caterpillar," said Don Welch, president of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Matt Buedel is the Journal Star business reporter. He can be reached at 686-3154 and email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JournoBuedel.