Overall, quality of life is good in Rockford, and it’s in the process of getting even better. (RACVB photo)

Rockford’s Victory Lap: A Deeper Look at Our Progress

Our editors have given out grades as we reflect on many facets of Rockford’s renewal. We know there’s still room for improvement, but we’re proud of how far things have come.

Overall, quality of life is  good in Rockford, and it’s in the process of getting even better. (RACVB photo)
Overall, quality of life is good in Rockford, and it’s in the process of getting even better. (RACVB photo)

The transformation is happening.

Look around the city of Rockford, and it’s readily apparent that things are changing. New businesses are popping up. Downtown is thriving. So is our manufacturing base.

It’s easy to take for granted how different things felt just 15 years ago. When Northwest Quarterly launched in the waning months of 2004, Rockford offered a mixed bag. Like many Rust Belt towns, we were shedding manufacturing jobs. Downtown was more like a ghost town. Our public schools were in disarray. Crime felt out of control.

But even as dismal as things felt, there were still plenty of bright developments underway. Our park system was winning awards. Construction – in the form of new homebuilding and commercial developments – was hot. Our local businesses were strong. Intrepid men and women were planting the flags of progress in our most forsaken neighborhoods.

Hope was alive, if only in hiding.

It was in that bouillabaisse of good-and-bad that Northwest Quarterly began bringing the city’s hopes into the light. Shedding a positive light on this community has been our mission, and while we consider ourselves optimists, we haven’t shied away from those hard discussions about Rockford’s needs. What’s amazing is how, 15 years later, the scars of the past are an important part of this city’s identity.

Because it’s so easy to take for granted just how much things have changed over the past few decades, we’ve taken a closer look at some of the most important facets of this community.

There’s a lot to celebrate. There are also concerns. But, just as they’ve always done, the hardworking people of this region are sure to tackle these problems head-on. We present them to you as a reminder of the work that still needs attention.

Along the way, you’ll hear many common themes, ideas that have guided our overall evaluation of Rockford’s progress, as noted on the following pages:

Upward Trajectory.
The path to improvement is often long, but signs of progress abound.

Local Impact. Some topics will affect all of us. Some will affect just some of us. Either way, small things can add up over time.

Major Wins.
The past decade has brought tangible signs that change is happening.

Contribution to Quality of Life.
It’s easy to see how parks, schools and entertainment venues make life better for everybody. But it’s also important to recognize how some factors (like taxes and crime) can create a burden.

Regional Cooperation. For too long, leaders built up silos around their work, competing against each other in ways that weren’t always productive. A renewed focus on cooperation and mutual benefit is greasing the wheels of progress.

Our pursuits of life, liberty and happiness are alive and well in Rockford. This is a community that’s big, yet small. It’s a place where one can easily make a difference. It’s a place where one can successfully raise a family and enjoy the best years of our lives. We can, and we are, living the American Dream.

We know Rockford’s not perfect. We know there are things that need work. But the following is proof positive that we have made remarkable progress and are certainly on the right track.

Economy: B+

For years, Rockford has been experiencing a renewed sense of economic prosperity. The manufacturing industry – which is responsible for about a fifth of all jobs in Rockford – has particularly been a source of this fortune, as employment in this sector has grown 24 percent over the past eight years, according to the Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC).

Tourism has also had a noticeable impact. In 2018, travel provided $392 million in economic impact to Rockford and Winnebago County communities and supported the livelihood of 3,039 area residents, according to the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. In 2018, visitors paid $23.2 million in state and $6.8 million in local tax receipts (up 6.2 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively), which generates increased funds for core services such as police, fire and public works.

The numbers continue to improve, and with economic improvement comes an increased attraction to visit and even relocate to Rockford.

Downtown/Urban Renewal: B+

It’s true that downtown Rockford was once a sight of blight and decay. But changes over the past decade have brought life back to this inner section of the city. Now, when you walk downtown, you’ll notice murals by local artists adding color and appeal to the sides of buildings. You’ll find quality restaurants like Omakase, Abreo Restaurant and Social Urban Bar and Restaurant. You can purchase cute apparel at Rockford Art Deli, or take an art class at 317 Studio & Gallery. There’s Rockford City Market in the summertime and IceHogs games during the wintertime.

Also contributing to the renewal of downtown Rockford is the increased availability of residential space. According to Justin Fern, CEO of Urban Equity Properties, there are close to 400 luxury units either complete or under construction in downtown Rockford. Urban Equity Properties also recently acquired Haskell Apartments, 327 Church St., and plans to make more than $400,000 in improvements to the property, with renovations to begin in fall 2019.

Major Wins: In 2017, Urban Equity Properties opened Burnham Lofts at 202 W. State St. with 62 luxury apartments on 11 floors, becoming the first major residential development in Rockford in nearly 50 years. Other wins include the UW Health Sports Factory and new Hilton Embassy Suites opening spring of 2020.

Health Care: A

With three hospital systems spread across Rockford – Mercyhealth; SwedishAmerican, A Division of UW Health; and OSF Saint Anthony HealthCare Medical Center – each challenges the others to improve. This results in a higher quality of care for patients.

Over the past four years, Mercyhealth has invested nearly $1 billion to improve access to primary and specialty care services in and around Winnebago County. A large part of this is the new $505 million Javon Bea Hospital and Physician Clinic-Riverside. Renovations to the Javon Bea Hospital and Physician Clinic-Rockton are also underway.

Following their merger in 2015, SwedishAmerican and UW Health have improved patient care through major capital investments in areas such as information technology, hospital infrastructure and new clinical care locations. This past year, the health system opened two new clinics on Rockford’s west side, and more clinics will be opening this year. On the main hospital campus, a new tower dedicated to pediatrics and women’s health is under construction.

OSF is the region’s only Comprehensive Stroke Center, with 24/7 ability to perform complex neurovascular procedures. A 144,000-square-foot expansion of the medical center opened in 2018, including a PromptCare, retail pharmacy, demonstration kitchen and expanded women’s services. In recent years several new medical clinics have been completed, including one on Parkview Avenue.

Each health system has much to brag about, showcasing why Rockford residents are blessed to live in a regional center of medical excellence.

Entertainment Venues: A+

The Coronado Performing Arts Center has always attracted visitors with its ornate beauty and promise of high-profile performers, but this past fiscal year (July 2018-June 2019) has been the best year since its revival in 2001, according to the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority (RAVE).

Along with the Coronado, the BMO Harris Bank Center draws top-tier performers to the Rockford region year after year. But you’ll also find impressive talent if you venture into one of Rockford’s smaller theater venues, including The Nordlof Center, Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center, Rockford University’s Maddox Theatre and Rock Valley College’s Starlight Theatre. Then, take into account talented performance groups such as Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Artists’ Ensemble and Rockford Dance Company, and it’s clear that art and culture are thriving in our community.

Major Wins: Since 2012, The Coronado Performing Arts Center has seen a 49 percent increase in ticketed events and a 33 percent increase in attendance, according to RAVE. 

Innovation: A+

Our region has a propensity for innovation, or what RAEDC President/CEO Nathan Bryant calls a “pedigree of solving big challenges.” That’s because many of Rockford’s biggest wins over the past 20 years haven’t been the result of outside saviors. Rather, they’ve been the product of local leaders’ determination to invent our own creative solutions. Rockford has gained a reputation for its ability to innovate, making it a preferred destination for many of the nation’s most talented engineers.

Leaders at Rock Valley College are driving innovation in workforce development as they revamp curriculum to better address local employment needs – including groundbreaking programs for engineers, airplane mechanics and fastener producers.

Realizing an unusually deep concentration of aerospace manufacturing in the area, RAEDC and others have united industry leaders through the Rockford Area Aerospace Network, creating a unified voice for marketing our region.

Meanwhile, organizations of all kinds are introducing innovative approaches to everything from tourism and economic development to neighborhood revitalization and new products or services. Collins Aerospace, for example, is investing $50 million to build an advanced skunkworks lab where it hopes to create the next generation of electric-hybrid airplane engine.

Major Wins: Collins Aerospace Systems’ “The Grid” innovation lab; Colman Village training center at Barber-Colman factory; RVC/NIU “Engineering Our Future” partnership; RVC Airplane Maintenance Program; Embassy Suites Hotel at former Amerock/Ziock building.

Manufacturing: A+

Making things accounts for nearly one-fifth of all jobs in the Rockford area – half, if you include the transportation and utilities jobs that support it. After years of decline, including an 18 percent drop in related jobs in 2009, things are finally looking up. Since the bottom of the recession, the region has added more than 6,400 manufacturing jobs – a 24 percent gain – and hit the highest employment levels since 2003. Firms large and small have contributed to a $275.4 million bump in local GDP between 2013 and 2017. But just around the corner is the looming retirement of baby boomers who will take with them years of experience. Responding to this so-called “brain drain” and recognizing the importance of high-skilled employees in today’s manufacturing environment, Rock Valley College and Rockford Public Schools have stepped up workforce development programs aimed at all levels of manufacturing, from engineering to shop floor.

Major wins: Woodward expands to Rock Cut campus, adding several hundred workers; FCA Belvidere lands the Jeep Cherokee and related suppliers; RVC and NIU establish four-year engineering degree pathway at RVC’s campus.

Rockford Park District: A+

The Rockford Park District improves the quality of life for citizens by providing a vibrant and relevant park system that increases property values, stimulates economic development, decreases juvenile crime and improves our community’s health.

A vibrant and relevant park system also protects the environment, employs hundreds of area teens, and brings our diverse community together in unity, through the common love of play.

As the third-largest park and recreation system in Illinois, the Rockford Park District helps nearly 9.5 million visitors every year enjoy life. It received the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) three times. It also received the 2018 Exceptional Workplace Award from the Illinois Parks & Recreation Association (IPRA), along with multiple awards recognizing its accountability and transparency to citizens and stakeholders regarding District finances. The Park District also received national recognition as one of the “Healthiest Companies in America” by Interactive Health.

Recently, SeniorAdvice.com recognized the Rockford Park District for being one of the reasons why Rockford is one of the top 20 best cities for retirement.

Crime: C-

The reality is, by and large, that Rockford is a safe place to live for the vast majority of its residents. But, despite recent short-term improvements, crime – especially in the forms of gang activity, drug sales and domestic violence – remains a stubborn nuisance to Rockford.

That’s why Police Chief Dan O’Shea has committed to a long-term strategy of attacking crime at its roots. Following a strategic shift after his arrival in 2016, O’Shea has stepped up engagement with the general public, established two “resident officers” who live in and service tough neighborhoods, and employed new technologies to identify gunfire and target “the worst of the worst.” Since 2016, violent crime has dropped 17 percent, homicides 19 percent, and robberies 35 percent. Last year, police recovered 1,886.7 grams of cocaine, 5,116.69 grams of heroin/fentanyl, 82,118 grams of cannabis and 223 illegal guns.

Domestic violence accounts for nearly one-third of all violent crime incidents, including five murders last year. The Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention, established in 2017, is creating a coordinated attack with local service agencies.

Even though the Rockford Police Department has lost officers in action, these brave men and women in blue remain unflinching in their commitment to reducing the city’s crime level and protecting Rockford citizens.

Major wins: Crime drops since 2016; Establishment of Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention; community policing tactics.

Sports: A-

Long before Fred Van Vleet became an NBA Star and we hosted an Olympics trial in table tennis, Rockford was a hotspot for sports. Rockford Peaches, anyone?
Our Chicago Blackhawks-affiliated IceHogs continue to leave their mark on the city, having donated more than $1 million to local charities over the past 20 years.

Game attendance has averaged 4,437 fans per game during the past nine years, and last season the IceHogs welcomed their 3 millionth fan. Good weather, the team’s schedule and the success of the six-time Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks drive attendance, says Mike Peck, director of business operations.

The team plays 38 home games each season, delivering an influx of visitors to bars, restaurants and other establishments surrounding the BMO Harris Bank Center, and thus bringing added revenue to the city in the form of sales tax.

Elsewhere, you’ll see the Rockford Rivets playing minor-league baseball, numerous sports tournaments, the annual Rock River Regatta and the Ski Broncs water ski team. An effort is underway to construct a lasting tribute to women’s baseball and our world-famous Peaches.

And don’t forget our dominant high school sports teams, which are constantly sending elite local athletes to compete against the best in Illinois.

It’s little wonder Sports Illustrated in 2004 called us Illinois’ sports town.

Private Schools: A-

Education is key to the success of every community. For the 2018-19 school year, there were 32 private schools in Rockford, serving 7,480 students, according to privateschoolreview.com. The average minority enrollment was 16 percent of the student body, and the average student-to-teacher ratio was 11:1. A full array of sports, music and arts programs can be found in these schools.

High school graduation rates are impeccable at Rockford’s private schools, with Rockford Christian School, Rockford Lutheran School, Boylan Catholic High School and Keith County Day School boasting nearly 100 percent graduation rates for the class of 2019.

Nearly 75 percent of Rockford’s private schools are religiously affiliated, most commonly Christian denominations. Perhaps most important to the parents of children in private schools, their students are free to recognize the role of God in their lives.

Public Schools: C-

Residents can be duly proud of the building of new public schools and the remodeling of existing schools. Also, the quality of education for those in Advanced Placements courses and the CAPA (creative and performing arts) program is outstanding.

What is not outstanding is that last year, less than a quarter of all District 205 students measured proficient in English or math; just 65 percent graduated in four years – a measure that’s been relatively flat since 2014, according to reports from the Illinois State Board of Education. Third-grade reading scores, which some consider a benchmark for future success, remain abysmal, with just 15 percent meeting grade level; almost half don’t come close.

Yet, despite the dismal statistics, many additional bright spots are emerging.

For the past decade, Alignment Rockford has introduced new resources and ideas aimed at addressing chronic underperformance. Targeting students before they enter school, Alignment Rockford is engaging area agencies that can help to reduce the barriers that keep families from preparing their youngsters for school. The Rockford Promise scholarship is ushering deserving low-income youths into a college education.

The district’s retooled high school curriculum uses several “Academies,” or pathways, that connect students with career ambitions and put them face-to-face with local employers. Specialized programs like Auburn High School’s CAPA continue accelerating bright students’ promising futures. And, through a Rock Valley College partnership, local high schoolers are earning college credits as they’re completing their diploma.

Higher Education: A

It’s a growing economic reality that your job will require some form of education beyond high school, whether it’s a bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree, an associate degree or industrial certifications. Indeed, education can increase our salary by nearly 50 percent, according to the U.S. Census. But those numbers also show a grim statistic for Rockford: Only half of local residents have attained any form of higher education. That’s why our local institutions have stepped up their game in training the next generation of Rockford’s workforce.

Rock Valley College, which regularly ranks among the top community colleges in the nation, has forged new alliances to create a “pipeline” that will respond to our region’s changing workforce demands. RVC’s joint engineering program with Northern Illinois University helps students earn a four-year degree, locally, for just a fraction of the cost of a typical degree. And, its partnerships with Rockford Public Schools are helping students to reduce the cost of education and reach the workforce faster than ever before.

Rockford University, which provides a small-university experience, has established a firmer financial footing while stepping up its programs to train teachers so necessary to the success of our Rockford Public Schools.

The University of Illinois College of Medicine, meanwhile, now provides a four-year medical school experience for students who come from all across the world to pursue a degree and advance the world-class medical research happening on campus. Many of them serve in our hospitals, and a good number stick around after graduation.

The UIC College of Medicine also operates a College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy to educate future medical professionals in these respective areas, and Rock Valley College’s partnership with OSF Saint Anthony College of Nursing provides a seamless transition for nursing students to pursue bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing.

Restaurants: A

We believe the quality of a community’s dining options is represented by the depth and breadth of its locally owned restaurants and their requisite restaurateurs – and Rockford has many skilled culinary leaders in every level of the market. Look in any business district in the city and you’ll find fast food, fast casual, family, and fine dining establishments, all of them locally owned. They represent a wide variety of cuisines, including steakhouses, pubs and ethnic options, including Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Swedish, German and Italian and more.

Downtown Rockford is a hotbed for locally owned restaurants of all flavors, and it seems a new favorite is popping up every year. Thanks to City Market and the new Indoor City Market, we’re likely to see even more options over the coming years.

Roads & Infrastructure: C-

The entryways to Rockford are smooth, wide and beautifully landscaped. They provide a good impression of the city to which travelers are entering.

Once drivers have entered the city, the roads are a different story – especially during the wintertime, when some neighborhood roads seem to go untouched for days.

In December 2018, the City Council approved a $42.3 million Capital Improvement Program to not only reconstruct major roads, but also repair and replace bridges and resurface neighborhood streets. The city’s additional 1 percent sales tax helps to generate money for the program. Many projects are in progress or expected to begin this autumn. In the meantime, Rockford’s roads within the city, simply put, are in poor shape. We’ll see in the near future just how successful the city is with their improvements.

Rockford’s Airport: A

For decades, the people of Rockford longed for an airport that was a true asset to the city and region. After decades of incremental improvements, the Chicago Rockford International Airport has become quite an asset, indeed. With a newly expanded passenger terminal, plenty of convenient, low-cost parking and already one of the leading cargo hubs in the country, RFD can look forward to even better days ahead.

The airport is a logistics juggernaut, as it’s the 19th largest cargo airport in the country – a recent jump in ranking, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

More than 2.1 billion pounds of landed weight came through the airport in 2018, in part because this is the nation’s second-largest UPS hub and a growing destination for cargo flights from Amazon and related carriers.

The boost in cargo at the airport has also impacted job growth, contributing about 1,000 jobs in 2018 and another 1,000 jobs expected to be added by 2020. Plans are underway to add even more capacity for cargo shipment.

Cargo isn’t the only thing RFD does well. Its relationship with Allegiant Airlines and Apple Vacations continues to grow as direct air service ferries increasingly more travelers between 10 warm weather destinations including Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

And, just off the runway, AAR is providing maintenance, repair and overhaul services to planes from across the world.

Museums: A

The museums in Rockford allow visitors to explore the city’s history in fun and interactive ways.

The Riverfront Museum Campus has three intriguing museums all in one location. Jane, a 21-foot juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, is a key attraction at the Burpee Museum of Natural History. More than 300 hands-on children’s exhibits can be seen at the Discovery Center Museum and more than 2,000 modern and contemporary works of art from the 19th century through today are housed at the Rockford Art Museum. Visitors can also explore Rockford’s past at Midway Village Museum, home to World War I and World War II Days, which together bring some of the largest such re-enactments in the Midwest. And those are just a few of the better-known museums in town. Plenty of other choices share their own stories from Rockford’s rich history.

Tourism: A

The occupancy rates of local hotels say it all – they are full much of the time. Though many residents are still unaware that their town is a tourism hotspot, it’s undeniable that tourism has been a key contributor to the success of our community.

Beautiful golf courses, a variety of restaurants, impressive entertainment and much more beckon outsiders to visit. And, as visitors flock to Rockford to participate in sports tournaments, business events and various recreational activities, there’s a ripple effect of economic growth. According to the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB), visitor spending reached an all-time high in 2018, up 2.1 percent from $384 million in 2017.

Rockford’s abundance of natural areas also plays a part in attracting tourists. Whether it’s boating on the Rock River, hiking through Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden or a local forest preserve, enjoying the latest exhibit at Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, playing pickleball at Sinnissippi Park, or visiting Anderson Japanese Gardens – with a longstanding reputation as one of the highest quality Japanese gardens in North America – visitors are consistently drawn to our beautiful landscapes.

Recent and upcoming investments, including a new downtown hotel and conference center and a future casino gaming complex – will provide even more incentive for tourists to visit Rockford, the City of Gardens.

Major Wins: The 10-year period between 2009 and 2018 shows visitor-related economic impact in Winnebago County growing 54 percent, according to the RACVB.

Building, Investment and Redevelopment: A

Businesses across every sector are stepping up their investments in the Rockford region, providing a post-recession boon for construction firms. Over the past three years alone, the region has received some $881 million in capital investments and constructed 3.976 million square feet of new or renovated space, according to RAEDC. And, that’s on top of the $537.7 million invested and 4.1 million square feet added between 2013 and 2015.

Few sectors have put up as substantial an investment as our area health care systems, which together have spent more than $715 million on local clinics, cancer centers and hospital expansions. Downtown Rockford has received an estimated $538 million in new investment as it becomes an epicenter of activity with new shops, restaurants, residences, an Indoor City Market and a hotel/conference center.

Growing manufacturers and distributors have established new and expanded facilities, and improvements at Chicago Rockford International Airport are expanding our capacity in the aerospace and logistics sectors.

Rockford Park District’s Reclaiming First delivered an indoor sports center as well as improvements at both Sportscore facilities. Rockford Public Schools has opened two new campuses and modernized its existing buildings, while numerous entities have invested in roads, bridges, a courthouse and a riverside library expected to open in the next few years.

Major Wins: Mercyhealth’s $500 million Riverside Boulevard campus, new towers at OSF and SwedishAmerican hospitals, UW Health Sports Factory, Rockford Public Schools construction/improvements, Embassy Suites hotel, Rockford Trust Building/downtown lofts, AAR’s MRO, miscellaneous factories and warehouses.

Real Estate & Affordability: B+

The Rockford area’s housing market is in a white-hot recovery mode. This summer, the average sale price has been close to $147,000 – a nearly 50 percent boost from its low point five years ago, and the highest average recorded in 13 years. Average prices have risen about 2 percent over the past year and are still 7 percent higher than before the recession in 2004.

In certain parts of the city, it’s not unusual for multiple offers to arrive within hours of a home hitting the market, says Conor Brown, CEO of Rockford Area Realtors. The ultra-competitive market is forcing buyers to be prepared, as there’s now just 2.4 months of housing supply available – a major change from a 14-month supply at the worst part of the recession. New home construction has begun to pick up, and market conditions look to be turning more favorably for area builders.

Rockford is still one of the most affordable housing markets in Illinois, and significantly more affordable than the Chicago area, according to the Illinois Association of Realtors. On a national level, Rockford ranks among the top 15 percent of communities in terms of affordability, says Brown.

Taxes: C-

Taxes are a problem in Rockford, but it’s not so different from any other city in Illinois. Rockford’s property tax rate has decreased a full percentage point from its high of 15.2963 percent four years ago, but Winnebago County is still one of the highest-taxed counties outside the Chicago metro area.

Illinois’ current flat income tax of 4.95 percent is still lower than Wisconsin’s highest rate, of 7.65 percent, and Illinois’ business tax of 7 percent is lower, too. But some worry that taxes are behind why 90,000 people have left Illinois since 2010.

Note from Bill Hughes: We need to attract the wealth of those who can invest and grow businesses in Illinois, not drive them out. I urge all thinking residents to vote against the adoption of a graduated income tax that will only serve to make our city and state a less attractive place to work, ultimately hurting the quality of life for us all.

Music: A

Music is an indelible part of our cultural scene in the hometown of Cheap Trick, and you can enjoy many forms of music at many venues across our city.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, local and regional touring musicians take the stage at beautiful outdoor venues: places like Anderson Japanese Gardens, the Sinnissippi Park Music Shell, the patio at Nicholas Conservatory and the dock at Prairie Street Brewhouse.

Come fall, we cherish world-class venues like the Coronado Performing Arts Center and Mendelssohn Club, which is America’s oldest continuing fine music venue. For years, top-notch classical musicians have taken the stage at Mendelssohn’s cozy Starr Center and the intimate parlor at Emerson House, but now you’ll also find them performing inside the newly dubbed Mendelssohn Hall (the former First Presbyterian Church).

It’s become a beloved tradition, now 70-plus years running, when the Rockford Choral Union performs Handel’s Messiah to open the Christmas season.

Music is a fundamental part of a youngster’s education, and there’s also a rich history of young people engaging with music, through not just their school programs but through organizations like the Rockford Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Kantorei, a 55-year-old boys choir that now educates both boys and girls.

Religion: A

America was founded upon a strong Judeo-Christian foundation and the belief that every American’s rights are endowed by our creator. In Rockford, religion is still a deep part of our local culture, as evidenced by the depth and breadth of our houses of worship. Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and nondenominational churches abound.

As the members of these churches live out their beliefs, these faith communities have spread the word that Rockford is a caring community. They’ve been an essential part of Rockford’s transformation, providing aid to the poor, the homeless and those in need. You’ll find local churches well represented among food pantries, homeless and day shelters, and numerous other causes. Over the past few years, many local churches have taken additional steps to spread the light of Christ in ways big and small.

Forest Preserves: A

The Forest Preserves of Winnebago County (FPWC) gives people plenty of reason to enjoy the outdoors.

FPWC provides more than 10,500 acres at 43 sites across the county, encompassing campgrounds, golf courses, boat launches, a nature center, an arboretum and more than 100 miles of walking trails. These places create endless opportunities for residents and their families to play, explore, learn and connect with nature.

The forest preserves are looking to diversify visitorship by designing programs that appeal to more people in the community. Nature Fiesta, a bilingual event planned for May 2020, offers nature education, games, crafts and guided hikes in both Spanish and English.

In 2018, the FPWC opened the 167-acre Cedar Cliff Forest Preserve, located on Kishwaukee Road. Cedar Cliff features 60-foot-high limestone cliffs that extend 800 feet along the river.

Golf: A

Rockford is a golfer’s paradise, as evidenced by the fact that you’ll find no fewer than eight courses within city limits – and countless others within a 30-minute drive.

The Rockford Park District operates 81 holes on five top-notch public courses, including the challenging Aldeen Golf Club, which Golf Digest called Illinois’ best municipal course in 2009 and which nabbed a 4.5-star rating from Golf Digest’s 2008 Places to Play guidebook. Tiger Woods held golf clinics at the city’s Ingersoll Golf Course in 2001 and 2004, while Sandy Hollow Golf Course has been certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

And then there are the privately owned courses that continue to evolve with the times. Rockford Country Club was founded in 1899 on the western banks of the Rock River. Forest Hills Country Club, founded in 1921, and The Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Club, founded in 1926, similarly provide a challenging outing on 18 beautifully landscaped holes.

Additionally, one local golfer is touring with the PGA, and our Rockford ProAm, which just wrapped its 43rd year, is the longest-running, freestanding pro-am in the nation.

Quality of Life

Contrary to what one might believe, quality of life isn’t based on how much stuff one has or has access to. Rather, quality of life is based on one’s ability to pursue happiness, as our Founding Fathers so envisioned.

The pursuits are many for those who live in Rockford. Excellent careers are available for almost any type of work one could choose to do. Sports, theater, museums, music, education, faith communities, an attractive downtown, a developing riverfront, a forested city, and much more are all accessible.

Is Rockford heaven? No. Crime is still a problem. Public schools still need to improve. Taxes are too high.

Altogether, though, quality of life is good in Rockford. Here, one can make a difference. One can raise a successful family. There’s a huge amount of fun things to do.

When it comes to what really counts in life, Rockford is an amazingly complete place to live… and it’s in the process of getting even better.