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December 3, 2003

Governor Blagojevich Brings Opportunity Returns to North Central Illinois
Governor’s unprecedented economic development plan to create jobs and spur economic growth will help entrepreneurs thrive, upgrade local transportation and improve education and job training to attract new businesses throughout the region.

Peoria – Speaking before a crowd of business, labor and civic leaders as well as local legislators at the Gateway Building on Peoria’s waterfront, Governor Rod Blagojevich unveiled the fourth of ten new major economic initiatives to spur growth in the region and across the state.  The Governor’s plan, Opportunity Returns, is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs to date in Illinois.  This grassroots plan is a product of significant outreach over the past several months throughout the region, with business, civic and labor leaders and government officials.
“The plan is neither a big-government promise to fix everything nor is it a tiny band-aid for a seriously wounded economy.  Instead, these initiatives are targeted investments, surgical strikes to connect entrepreneurs with investors, to connect great ideas with skilled workers, and to connect the North Central region’s supply of economic assets with demand around the world,” Blagojevich said.  (since the region is more than just Peoria) “Our plan is to get the region’s economy moving again, and is designed to be flexible and effective; it  is tailored to deliver real results that local businesses will see, feel, and, hopefully, profit from.”
The Governor’s Opportunity Returns plan for North Central Illinois consists of five primary goals to address the economic and workforce development needs of the region: investing in entrepreneurship and innovation, improving transportation infrastructure, strengthening education and job training, investing in renewable energy and the environment, and encouraging investment and opening markets.
The North Central Illinois region includes DeWitt, Fulton, Livingston, Marshall, Mason, McLean, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell and Woodford counties. 
The Governor announced several major initiatives and grants to counter job loss and spur economic development in the North Central Region, including:
  • To help promote innovation in the region $4.5 million has been committed to launch  the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center.  The $12 million, 50,000-square foot facility will be a business incubator taking the ideas generated from the more than $1 billion in research spent each year at Caterpillar, The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, Bradley University, the USDA Agriculture Lab and other research institutions and turning them into start-up businesses. 
  • Funding an Entrepreneurship Center at the new business incubator, staffed by Bradley University.  The Center will serve as a unique commercialization center connecting researchers and entrepreneurs to business assistance and funding sources to create proven products for the global marketplace.  These two projects could create thousands of jobs. 
  • Over $25 million to fund the completion of I-55 in Bloomington.  This investment will expand Bloomington’s major thoroughfare from four to six lanes, completing a 25-year long project, and providing the infrastructure necessary to support the growing commerce in this region.
  • Linking all forms of ground transportation together in downtown Normal with the new Multimodal Transportation Center that will join rail, bus and local transportation in a single location.  This new hub will be ready for high-speed rail service and complements its ambitious downtown redevelopment plan
  • Conduct a Port District Planning Study, with an Illinois Tomorrow Grant,  to explore infrastructure needs, import and export opportunities, land use impacts and the capacity of existing transportation resources to guide future growth and development decisions. This study will help to understand the needs of companies in the Heart of Illinois Port District situated along the Illinois River and to develop infrastructure improvements that will connect goods moving by barge to facilities served by trucks, trains and airplanes. 
  • Heartland Community College is receiving $13.5 million to construct an 80,000 square foot workforce development center at its new campus complex in Normal.  The center will upgrade its equipment and facilities so that it can train an additional 400 students a year in 95 new classrooms, labs and offices. 
  • Develop the “21st Century Jobs” Training Initiative by offering grants to help local businesses upgrade their workforces.
  • Promoting tourism and economic development while preserving the environment with the restoration of both Pekin and Peoria Lake.
“Like the constant, steady, calming flow of the Illinois River, we will work methodically and unrelentingly to build a better future.  We will work day and night to put people back to work, to create opportunity and economic security.  And when we do, we will make the great dream of building a better life as real and vibrant and alive as it was meant to be,” Blagojevich concluded.

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