5 Peoria mayoral candidates discuss business, innovation, entrepreneurship in virtual forum

PEORIA, Ill, (WMBD) — The five candidates vying for the city’s top seat took part in a virtual mayoral forum Thursday night discussing possibilities for economic growth.

The “Return to Better” forum was also hosted by The Peoria Innovation Alliance, Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Young Professionals Organization of Greater Peoria, Right to Start, and Distillery Labs.

The five candidates, Rita Ali, Sid Ruckriegel, Jim Montelongo, Chama St. Louis, and Andres Diaz all spoke on topics of innovation, entrepreneurship, and helping to expand economic opportunities through the city.

“Through innovation, through job creation, through our collective business acumen we can actually not only define where we are as a community, but also inspire the rest of the nation to be able to move there with us,” Ruckriegel said.

“We need to support Peoria-grown businesses with access to opportunities, resources, and mentorship,” St. Louis said.

“I want to put forth the greatest effort ever-made in Peoria to help our businesses in growing and expanding because that’s the only way we’re going to get out of the trouble that we’re in,” Montelongo said.

“The people taking the risk, making the investment, they need our support and encouragement, not our interference and bureaucracy,” Diaz said.

“I want to put Peoria on a pathway to become a smart city,” Ali said. “A smart city infuses innovation in everything it does to stimulate growth, to educate, to transport, to protect its citizens.”

One of the questions posed to the candidates asked what are some examples of policies that they’ve noticed in other areas to sustain economic growth in other communities that they would like to bring to Peoria.

“I got a lot of phone calls from our retail, restaurants, and some of the large developers with the shopping centers explaining what their challenges are with COVID and the loss of business, etc,” Montelongo said. “I asked the city manager to do some research, “What can we do to help these businesses right now?” So the city council, together, we passed a 50% fee reduction in those areas so that’s something I think went very well.”

“Columbus, Ohio is the city that I referred to earlier that became a smart city and they are still stimulating business growth even through the pandemic,” Ali said. “One thing they’re focusing on is training for in-demand jobs. We can give more emphasis on early exposure to high demand and high wage occupations for middle and high school students.”

“It really comes down to the success of businesses and making it a more level-playing field for all businesses because some of the things that we have imposed are very expensive to the point of entry for a lot of businesses,” Ruckriegel said.

“Other cities are implementing a monthly stimulus to their residents which I think is a really amazing concept,” St. Louis said. “I’m going to go put all my money down on the monthly stimulus program because it is a way to empower our residents without using taxpayers’ dollars.”

“Some of the ways that the city [Frisco, Texas] streamlined their business or their support of businesses was to hire and bring in the National Development Corporation to be a third-party payer on some of the CARES and CDBG funds that they received,” Diaz said. “Having an outside party that maybe has done this much more efficiently for the city of Frisco would be a great thing.”

Other topics mentioned included ways to inciting businesses to move to Peoria’s innovation area, empowering minorities to create new businesses, and the importance of instilling entrepreneurship into the youth.

The entire forum can be viewed here.

The primary election is Feb. 23 and early voting has already started at the Peoria Election Commission.

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