Homecoming to showcase Greater Peoria area growth, improvements

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Broadway-caliber shows at the Peoria Civic Center are part of the package community organizations will be touting at the inaugural Greater Peoria Homecoming party the day after Thanksgiving, which is designed to reintroduce former Peorians to the River City. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Former Peorians who may be in town visiting family and friends over Thanksgiving are invited to a party that organizers hope will entice them to move back to the River City.

The first-ever Greater Peoria Homecoming from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving, is aimed at showcasing the region’s growth, new developments and quality of life improvements.

The event at 315 Main St. will be hosted by a group of community organizations, including the Peoria Innovation Alliance, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a way to welcome everybody home and remind them what’s great about central Illinois,” said J.D. Dalfonso, president of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People call this area home and take pride in where we come from, and we just want to showcase some of the achievements that have been accomplished here and why it’s a great place to live.”

Inspired by IndyXmas, a talent recruitment event held in Indianapolis in 2014, GP Homecoming will feature local startups and community organizations that are contributing to the overall growth and improvement of Greater Peoria’s economy and quality of life.

“The concept of the GP Homecoming event has been in the works for several years,” noted Jake Hamann, executive director of the Peoria Innovation Alliance. “To see our various organizations collaborating so closely to make this event a reality is a testament to a renewed sense of optimism and commitment to progress across the region.”

The event is being described as an informal mixer that will offer a chance to talk with local business owners and entrepreneurs, as well as sample food and drink from some local restaurants.

“There will be representatives from some of our start-up companies and our innovation-focused companies, as well as some of our larger institutions, such as the hospitals, that are going to be looking for new hires in the next year. It’s really just an opportunity to connect with some companies that are growing and on their way up,” said Brent Baker, director of workforce solutions for the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.

Local organizers of the first-ever Greater Peoria Homecoming party designed to entice former residents to move back here say Peoria offers job opportunities in high tech areas with a coveted 15-minute commute. “Essentially, you can get anywhere in 15 minutes, and that’s not a bad thing,” said J.D. Dalfonso, president of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau)

GP Homecoming is targeted at the 25- to 44-year-old demographic and aims to attract local alumni and former residents who might be considering relocation due to an approaching significant life event.

“Our target market is folks that are maybe a couple years removed out of college or young families that are looking to maybe make a change or have a change of pace if they live in a larger city. They can get away from the hustle and bustle but still have the upward career and mobility in some of these high tech and innovation spaces,” Baker said.

Both Baker and Dalfonso touted the area’s quality of life as an incentive to live, work and play here.

“We have the upper hand on a lot of quality-of-life aspects compared to communities our size and even larger,” Baker said. “We want people to recognize that and make the choice to be part of our future.”

Dalfonso called Peoria “a 15-minute town.”

“Essentially, you can get anywhere in 15 minutes, and that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “You can leave your house at 6 p.m. and travel 15 minutes, park for free, grab dinner and cocktails, all for 80 bucks or less, and then walk across the street to the Civic Center and see a Broadway-caliber show, such as “The Lion King” or “The Book of Mormon” or “Wicked.” Then you can leave downtown and be back home in 15 minutes.”

He also lauded the area’s unique, affordable residential opportunities.

“Whether you want a historic home or a newly built home or rural land, you can have that here. We have urban condos and urban living downtown, too, if that’s what you prefer,” he said.

Audrey Kamm with the Peoria Area Chamber’s Young Professionals Organization of Greater Peoria agreed. “Our region punches above its weight class when it comes to quality of life and innovation, and we want folks to see what they’re missing,” she said.

Baker thinks some who attend the Greater Peoria Homecoming party will be surprised by what they see.

“When they talk to some of the folks we’re going to have there, like Tada Cognitive Solutions and Enduvo, the virtual reality company that’s coming out of the OSF Jump Trading Simulation Center, they’ll see you can be a leader in some of these high-tech areas right here in Peoria and only have a 15-minute commute. You can make roughly the same amount of money you would in a larger market and be able to keep more of that in your pocket with lower cost of living,” he said. “When you put all of that together, it’s a pretty attractive package.”

Following the GP Homecoming event, visitors can walk across the plaza to enjoy a tree-lighting ceremony at the Peoria County Courthouse that kicks off the annual Yule Like Peoria, during which downtown businesses will be hosting various forms of entertainment and refreshments.

Organizers hope to make the GP Homecoming mixer an annual event. Baker said they hope to attract 100 to 120 people in the first year.

Those who plan to attend are encouraged to RSVP at www.gphomecoming.com, but walk-ins will be welcome, as well.

For more information, call the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council at 309-495-5910, the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 309-676-0303 or the Peoria Innovation Alliance at 309-657-3258.