Local Economic Group Bringing Fish and Economic Growth

Helping out the economy can be as easy as catching fish. Well, maybe not quite that easy.

The first annual Flying Fish Festival is being hosted in July by a relatively new economic development organization called Focus Forward Central Illinois. The festival will feature food, drink and entertainment. Its main focus will be bow-hunting the Asian Carp that populate the Illinois River in large numbers and endanger some of the other species that also occupy the river.

“It has a conservation and a preservation aspect to it,” Andre Williams, FFCI board member, said. “It’s a way, from a conservation standpoint, of controlling and reducing a fish population that has become a nuance, but unlike other regions of the country who have experienced this, we’re actually looking at how to make it an economically feasible approach that’s doing something with this nuance as opposed to just pouring millions of dollars into trying to get rid of it.”

The economic development group has only been around since 2012, having replaced the previous organization, The Heartland Partnership. FFCI has worked with ViTAL Economy, a Baltimore group, since the former group’s inception. The goals of the FFCI are to transform the mindset, economic performance, environment, and the leadership in the counties of Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Mason.

FFCI’s approach to the Festival falls in line with the way it likes to spur economic growth, which is to map out the assets of the Central Illinois region and figure out how to turn those assets into economic opportunities.

It is a bit of misconception that Asian Carp is essentially inedible. Unlike the common carp – a species considered in many areas not to be food – the Asian Carp has been a delicacy in Asia for many thousands of years. What FFCI is doing is recognizing this resource and using it to better the area.

The festival is offering more than an opportunity to hunt the fish. Asian Carp recipes from New Orleans’s chefs, who specialize in making the fish into various dishes, will be made available. It is also a hope that the event will boost tourism and bring in hunters and fisherman from miles around.

Williams, who is also the interim executive director of Peoria’s Community Construction Outreach, thinks there are a lot of legs to the event. A primary one is its long-term tourist implications. Tourism equals jobs, and thus the event is a tremendous opportunity for Central Illinois and those living along it.

This unique way of approaching economic development has come from the people of the region, Williams says.

“[…]When you got so many people in the room from so many different disciplines and walks of life whom are looking at these kinds of issues from so many different perspectives, you cannot help but get that kind of inertia toward new and fresh ideas,” Williams said. “What’s possible that we perhaps haven’t pursued before? It really lends itself to that kind of out of the box thinking.”

If you’re interested in volunteering for the event or the organization, email info@focusforwardci.com.