Northwest Business Magazine

Next Rockford: Preparing for the City’s Future

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The millenial generation is now the largest segment of the American workforce, and in Rockford, they’re developing their talents with a group of like-minded young professionals.

Former facilitators of Next Rockford (clockwise, from top left): Jeff Hultman, Kris Kieper Machajewski, John Groh, Frank Haney, Scott Anderson

Former facilitators of Next Rockford (clockwise, from top left): Jeff Hultman, Kris Kieper Machajewski, John Groh, Frank Haney, Scott Anderson

The U.S. millennial generation (Generation Y) – the 75 million people born between 1980 and 2000 – is now the largest segment of the U.S. workforce. Its members are assuming leadership roles in our region, alongside Generation X (born 1960-1980) and Baby Boomers (born 1940-1960). Many of our current leaders are well prepared for these roles, in part because they involved themselves in Next Rockford, a group founded in 2003 for young professionals. They’ve been learning about and advocating for improvements in local education, urban development, the business climate and much more, for nearly 15 years.

The current facilitator =of Next Rockford is Chris Weber, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley, who joined Next Rockford in 2008. “I believe that the more we can connect our membership, share ideas and work together, the stronger our community will be in the future,” says Weber.

Here, we check in with past facilitators to see where life has taken them and what advice they offer.

Jeff Hultman

President & CEO,
Illinois Bank & Trust
Facilitator in 2004-2009
What was most rewarding during your time as facilitator? 
Launching the organization is still one of the great things I have been a part of in our community. Getting to know the initial core group, expanding our reach to more than 50 people in a few short years, and watching the community embrace the group was a fantastic experience. 
What’s your favorite way to give back to our community? 
I get involved and take action. We have so many talented people in the area and we need to talk less and do more. I believe in giving of one’s time and talents to serve the greater good.     
What’s your advice to young people in Rockford?
First, if you don’t like living here, maybe it’s time to move! This is a great place to live and raise a family if you take advantage of the opportunities. No place is perfect. We make the most of our city by focusing on and investing in our assets, instead of wasting energy complaining about our weaknesses. That being said, we have to 100 percent improve our crime situation. If that’s not managed better, the rest becomes irrelevant.    
Best business advice you’ve received? 
Two things. Always leave a project or a job better than you found it. Second, your career is not always a straight line up and to the right; sometimes it’s more like stair steps.

Kris Kieper Machajewski

President & CEO,
YWCA Northwestern Illinois
& Village Trustee, Winnebago
Facilitator: 2009-2010
What was most rewarding during your time as facilitator? 
One of my first tasks was to focus and align the organization through planning and committee formation. This helped position the organization to grow strategically and focused us on critical issues that had a significant impact on the region.
What was your most memorable speaker/topic?
Next Rockford held the first Aldermanic Forum during my time as facilitator – this was the first time all candidates for alderman were brought together for a debate.
Also, as a result of our drilling down into specific impact focus areas, we successfully campaigned for charter schools and neighborhood school zoning. 
Our visit with Rebecca Ryan (founder of NEXT Generation Consulting, Madison) really helped us to envision what Next Rockford could be and why we should exist. Her viewpoint on involving young professionals in community work and providing a seat for them at the policy making tables was the kick in the pants we needed to focus our priorities.
What’s your favorite way to give back to our community?
I serve on a few boards that enable me to have a direct, positive impact on vulnerable or underserved populations. It’s important to me that my community involvement is impactful and focused.
What’s your advice to young people in Rockford?
Know your passion and what drives you; align it with an initiative or cause in the community that’s important to you and you’ll find great reward in your volunteer work. You’d be surprised at the professional skills you’ll develop at the same time.

Best business advice you’ve received? 
In 2006, when I was taking over the YW, which was sinking at that time, I was told that success is more about the sailor than the boat. A strong leader can take nearly any bad situation and make it a success by focusing the right people on the problem and executing a plan with precision. I have also taken to heart advice I was given by a mentor; she told me to surround myself with a strong leadership team and support network, that they would be the biggest investment in my career. She was right!

John Groh

President/CEO,
Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
Facilitator: 2010-2011
What was most rewarding during your time as facilitator? 
Next Rockford’s members are all interested and involved in bettering the community, so leading this group was a great honor. Over the past several years, we’ve seen Gex X and Y professionals take the reigns of key leadership positions throughout our community. I believe Next Rockford has played, and will continue to play, a significant role in preparing individuals to assume important leadership roles in our community.
I’m immensely proud of Next Rockford’s effective advocacy for our public education system. Next Rockford was among the leading organizations that advocated for the introduction of charter schools, the return of neighborhood (zoned) schools and the referendums that have allowed RPS 205 to renovate and improve all of our public schools in Rockford.
Our members were also key early leaders in the movement that became Alignment Rockford; their work has been transformational. 
What was your most memorable speaker/topic?
They’re the events in which leaders from business, government and law enforcement came to our meetings to both inform our members and to seek the support or counsel of our members. That demonstrated to me that our group and our generation were being taken seriously and that our voice mattered. 
What’s your advice to young people in Rockford?
Raise your hand. Ask how you can help someone, or just forge your own path. Every person who wants to make a difference in this community can do it. There’s so much opportunity here for those who want to change their world.

Frank Haney

Chairman, Winnebago Co. Board
Facilitator: 2012-2013
What was most rewarding during your time as facilitator? 
Building a network of talented people, many of whom have remained friends. We increased new membership significantly during this two-year period.
Most memorable speaker/topic?
Multiple candidate forums and our 10-year anniversary event.
What’s your favorite way to give back to our community?
Running for public office
What’s your advice to young people in Rockford?
Every now and then, sometime, someplace, somewhere, you need to plant your feet, stand firm, and make a point about who you are and what you believe in. And when that time comes, you simply must do it. Get off the sidelines. Go all-in on something you’re passionate about. Put your heart into this community – we need you. Don’t let people tell you it isn’t your time or your turn.
Best business advice you’ve received: Focus on relationships and results. But start with relationships. Relationships are like bank accounts. We need to make a lot of deposits before taking a withdrawal.

Scott Anderson

Director of Operations, Phelps Industries
Facilitator: 2014-2016
What was most rewarding during your time as facilitator? 
Engaging scores of our members in the efforts of Transform Rockford and hosting the Community Idea Exchange on Leadership and Youth. We also hosted several issue-driven forums in which our members had direct access to candidates for elected office.
What was your most memorable speaker/topic?
Along with Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Ill.), we hosted newly elected Gov. Bruce Rauner at the Prairie Street Brewhouse.
What’s your favorite way to give back to our community?
Any opportunity to contribute to lasting sustainable improvement is good. Charity is fine; eliminating the need for charity is better.
What’s your advice to young people in Rockford?
I’ve lived in many places across North America. Each had its pros and cons. Focus on the good stuff and minimize the bad stuff. Get out and enjoy; engage with your space and make it better.
Best business advice you’ve received: The enemy of great is good. There are a lot of good ideas but only a few really great opportunities. Any time and resources spent on good ideas are a distraction from the great opportunities.

Rebecca Nunes is a member of the Next Rockford Strategy Team and an e-marketing specialist at Alpine Bank.
Other strategy team members are David Anderson, Scott Anderson, David Anspaugh, Conor Brown, Candace Dixon, Frank Haney, Jorge Herrera, Brant Hulsebus, Keith Krutchen, Jimsi Kuborn, Tom McNamara, Maryjo Pirages, Maurice Redd, Steve Swenson, Lee Thoms, Dorothy (Schneider) Wallheimer, Chris Weber and Wester Wuori.

Next Rockford welcomes all young professionals. To learn more about joining the group, go to nextrockford.org.

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