Guest Column: A new industry for Rockford?

Guest Column: A new industry for Rockford?

By Charlyne Blatcher Martin

On Saturday, May 10, the Illinois/Chicago Screenwriters Seminar took place at Rockford College’s Cheek Theater. The Illinois Film Office representative told me that they usually draw between 30 and 50 people. This event drew 75 people who came from Rockford and as far away as Aurora. In spite of an inclement weather advisory, they came to hear about screenwriting technique and the world of writing feature films.

This seminar has happened around the state of Illinois for a few years but not in Rockford. They had never thought about Rockford I had been told. I learned about the seminar online from an international playwrights forum. A quick phone call to Todd Lizak, co-coordinator for the State of Illinois Film Office, a sales pitch for why this seminar should be held in Rockford, and he agreed.

While this seminar attracted 75 people, and that surely doesn’t mean that this community is filled with future screenwriters, it did signal something to me. I try to keep aware of what is happening in our community and frequently will have guests on my talk show, Something To Talk About, to discuss various issues that have significant impact on our lives. The loss of Ingersoll and the sale of Anderson Packing Industries is sending more distress signals throughout our community.

On May 23, I met with Mayor Doug Scott and Ryan Petty, president of the Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce. Previously, I had sent the mayor a copy of my proposal to take a look at an industry that has since 1976 brought in $10 billion to the state of Illinois. The visual media industry has fueled some serious competition between Canada and the United States and in the state of Illinois, specifically Chicago. The importance of the visual media industry is such that Governor Blagojevich recently has appointed a task force to find ways to keep this industry alive in Illinois.

On Wednesday, May 28, Channel 11 featured Rich Moskal from the Chicago Film Office and Brenda Sexton, new director of the Illinois Film Office. They talked about the visual media industry and how Chicago is expecting to play host to seven feature films that will translate into 1,200 jobs and $100 million dollars in “instant income” for the city. The expanded revenue is expected to be about $280 million.

What is the visual media industry? It is an industry that is most often associated with the making of movies—feature films. However, commercials, documentaries, and music videos are just parts of that industry. What does this have to do with Rockford, a manufacturing giant of the past?

The visual media industry requires the skills, services and talent of more than 145 related occupations: Carpenters build sets, electricians, camera operators, restaurants and caterers feed production crews, hotels provide housing. In other words, communities that attract production companies make money for that community. Also, there is the visual media’s dependence upon digital technology. That translates into a community providing tax incentives, etc. to encourage production companies to make that community their base of operation. This is where Rockford comes into the picture:

n We are centrally located in the state with great accessibility with our tollway.

n We may be able to say that we have air service to and from Rockford in the near future. We have a good airport that can handle a wide variety of aircraft, and this new industry will require air service.

n We have a skilled workforce in our community. We have untapped human and physical resources just waiting to be used.

n There are three educational facilities for training and retraining our people.

n And, we need to find something to replace what we have lost. Manufacturing, as we have known it in the past, is gone. It is not coming back.

Will it be the visual media industry? Can Rockford find a niché in this marketplace? Maybe and maybe not, but we need to explore the possibilities. We need something new to give us back our livelihoods, pride and self-esteem. I proposed to explore the visual media industry. The mayor told me that he would get back to me. I look forward to his response.

Charlyne Blatcher Martin is host of “Something to Talk About.”

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