What's Next for Peoria?

On my way to the National Prayer Breakfast, as I landed in North Carolina between flights, I got a text message from my wife saying that Caterpillar is moving its global headquarters out of Peoria. My first thought was Oh, no!

Multiple times over the past few years, CAT has promised not to leave Peoria and has committed to build here. Now, after going stealth, the board of directors has decided to move the global headquarters to Chicago. Though the board states that “only” 300 jobs will be affected and that Peoria will remain a hub of operations, the move still raises multiple questions in my mind…

 

    • Can I really believe Caterpillar’s leaders when they just went against everything they have said in the past?
    • Is this move really going to be limited to the executive team, or is it just the first phase of a larger relocation?
    • What does this mean for the local economy (businesses, families, churches, and the housing market)?
    • How can Peoria regroup and move forward, especially if more jobs leave the area?
    • Is Peoria going to end up like so many other depressed and depleted Midwestern towns?

These questions and many more continue to roll through my mind, and I find myself wavering between frustration, anger, disappointment, and concern about the future. However, at the same time, there is a sense of hope and resolve that rises up in me. As my friend Larry Crabb likes to say, “Death always precedes resurrection.”

Sometimes hardship, disappointment, and loss need to occur before something new and better can happen. When I think this way, new questions begin to roll through my mind…

    • What if Peoria has been too dependent on one corporation?
    • What if this pushes our city to become more aggressive in looking for new opportunities?
    • What if this challenge inspires our community to seek God?

No doubt, CAT has been great for Peoria, but there is one thing the company has valued over all else in the past few years—pleasing its shareholders. Yes, business is down, but the main reason dozens of families in my church and countless others in our community have lost jobs in recent years is the corporation’s need to maintain profit ratios and keep stock prices up—not just profitable, but up. Even with the dip in sales, massive layoffs have enabled stock prices to rally this past year, and dividends are up from .6 in 2014 to .77.

That’s why I’m not too optimistic when I think about the future of CAT in Peoria.

On the flip side, however, I am reminded of a book on organizational leadership I read several years ago that highlights the difference between a starfish and a spider. According to the book,  if a spider loses a leg, that leg is permanently gone. Nothing grows back. The spider must learn to cope and adapt, or it dies. On the other hand, if a starfish loses a limb to a manta ray or crab, it begins to grow a new one.

Perhaps Peoria has functioned as a spider for too long. Perhaps now it is time for our city to become a starfish. Yes, it will be a difficult and challenging transition, perhaps even impossible. Yet, if it does happen, our community will be better because of it. 

My thoughts have been all over the map the past couple of days, but I find great comfort and hope when I remember what my friend says: “Death always precedes resurrection.” Let’s be prayerful and remain hopeful for the individuals affected and our community as a whole.