Many signals indicate that Rockford is on an upward trajectory. Mike Schablaske, executive director of Transform Rockford, highlights some of these indicators, what they mean, and how they can be influenced by the challenges that lay ahead.
The residents and leaders of the Rockford region are attempting great things. We should.
Since its founding in 2013, Transform Rockford has helped to encourage dialogue around the things that will make Rockford a Top 25 region by 2025. We believe many signals are pointing in the right direction.
1. Strong Assets
We have unique and powerful assets to fuel our continued economic development and address our region’s challenges. Over the past four years, we have grown our region’s employment by more than 3,000 jobs, decreased unemployment by 3.9 percent, and increased median incomes by 4 percent (in constant dollars).
This region is home to some of America’s most sophisticated manufacturers, and we boast one of this country’s largest aerospace manufacturing clusters.
Our world-class airport, multimodal terminals for truck and rail, and access to more than 12 million people within 2.5 hours make the Rockford region a high-growth logistics hub.
Engaged employers and top-notch educational institutions make this region home to innovative workforce development programs, allowing us to build a 21st century economy. Recent partnership programs between our region’s educators and employers have targeted the development and placement of engineers, teachers, health care workers and aircraft mechanics.
Area firms and institutions have invested more than $2 billion in our infrastructure, schools, manufacturing, recreation and health care capacity within the past five years.
Our region has become a destination for visitors, as indicated by a 10.5 percent three-year cumulative growth in visitor spending. They come to enjoy our amazing amateur sports facilities, revitalized urban centers and towns, award-winning park system, and remarkable cultural assets.
2. Social Measures
We have the capacity and momentum for social innovation, rooted in our deep compassion and caring for all.
Our community was the first to be recognized by the federal government for ending veteran homelessness.
Rockford Public Schools is one of only three Ford Next Generation Model Communities in the United States, and it’s delivering innovative academy programs that are seeing success and national recognition.
Our community is building capacity for partnering across sectors and demographics. We are intentionally building social capital and studying and implementing best practices to leverage the power of a highly engaged community.
We plan and work together.
All sectors of the community are engaged and partnering – the public sector, the business and faith community, and not-for-profits. We are breaking up barriers and silos. Engagement and inclusion are the standard.
We have a comprehensive plan tied to a singular vision of becoming a Top 25 region. More than 4,000 residents participated in the plan’s development and review, as well as the implementation of 45 projects (to date) derived from that plan.
We see our challenges with clear eyes – from making our community safer while providing access for all to the high-quality educational and career opportunities we have, to aligning our stakeholders and prioritizing our resources.
We hold ourselves and one another accountable to our region’s shared values, which include (among others) inclusion, transparency and respect.
The Road Ahead
We are aware of the challenges we face. We keep our eyes on both leading and lagging indicators, and we regularly look to leverage our assets to meet our challenges.
Through it all, we remain confident in the potential of this region and its residents. We believe our assets, areas of progress and community planning have us uniquely positioned in this great country.
Becoming a Top 25 community is a matter of “when,” not “if” for the Rockford region. To learn more about the Rockford region’s transformational vision, plans, dashboard of indicators and stories of progress, please visit transformrockford.org.
Mike Schablaske is executive director of Transform Rockford, a nonprofit organization dedicated to crafting a strategic plan for the region’s overall improvement.