deptheader-lahoodCat C-suite leadership leaves; Community leadership must join forces to move Central Illinois to a new level 

“A kick in the gut.” “The rug has been pulled out from under us.” “A betrayal by Cat of the community.” These quotes are just a few of the sentiments expressed by political leaders regarding the announcement of Cat executives moving to Chicago and the decision not to build a new Caterpillar Campus in downtown Peoria. Both of these decisions were made by the Cat Board whose members are almost all from outside of Peoria.

The void created by the departure of Cat C-Suite executives for Central Illinois will be enormous. For as far back as anyone can remember Cat executives have played a dynamic role in the leadership of Central Illinois, whether it be serving on the not-for- profit boards, raising money for the not-for-profits, involvement in our political system, chamber of commerce and economic development activities. The Cat executives’ and their families’ service to United Way, the Community Foundation, Easter Seals, local hospital board, Salvation Army, Riverfront Museum, our service clubs, library boards, church boards, school boards to name just a few will be gone forever.

Cat leadership, before they leave town, needs to commit to work with the community on a comprehensive plan agreed to by all for the use of all the downtown city blocks Cat purchased and now owns which will compliment and enhance the Warehouse District and all of the private and public investments. This is the property where many of us envisioned a new Caterpillar Campus. This property cannot and should not lay idle as a constant reminder of a Cat Board decision that has broken the hearts of so many Central Illinoisans.

The next most critical important moment now is to rally the entire leadership of Central Illinois around the idea that we need to think creatively, innovatively “outside the box” about how to attract businesses and jobs to Central Illinois. There have been times previously when our community was devastated by the loss of industries like the whiskey and spirits industries or when Pabst decided to leave Peoria Heights or when Keystone Steel and Wire was reorganized. During those periods, the community leaders came together to create new jobs and new job opportunities. Hiram Walker is now a booming ethanol and spirits business run by ADM, as one example.

When an auto plant vacated Bloomington-Normal, the community found a new business. When the South lost its textile and tobacco industries, they reinvented their states into high tech corridors for innovation. When the automobile industries lost market share to foreign competitors, they reinvented themselves. We need to tap the existing businesses that proudly call Peoria and Central Illinois home, thank them for all they do to maintain good jobs and encourage them to participate in this new adventure.

It is time to stop crying in our coffee and use the enormous talent of leaders and leadership from our educational leaders to our business leaders, religious leaders, labor leaders, health care leaders and political leaders to come together shoulder to shoulder to create new jobs and new opportunities.

Our community has faced these disappointments before. Let’s do what we have always done, come together, work together, think together, plan together and we will be successful in moving Peoria and Central Illinois to a new level.

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