Home Rule Debate: Guest Column: Chairman of AMCORE in favor of home rule

Good evening. I’m Ken Edge, chairman, president and CEO of AMCORE Bank. I appreciate the opportunity to deliver these comments.

As I’m sure you know, AMCORE Bank has invested heavily in our home-town of Rockford. Our institution was founded here in 1910, and we couldn’t be prouder of the fact that we are still Rockford’s dominant financial institution. In the last four years alone, we’ve added 200 jobs locally during a timeframe in which our company has been heavily focused on expansion in markets like suburban Chicago and Madison, Wis.

So, it is my love for Rockford—and our company’s commitment to Rockford—that brings me here tonight. I am concerned by some of the debate that I have heard surrounding home rule. It seems to me that too much time is being spent talking about HOW to put home rule on the March ballot as opposed to WHY we should put home rule on the March ballot.

As a business person, I can assure you that I do everything in my power to make sure that my employees—especially my executives and managers—are well trained, well equipped and have the state-of-the-art tools they need to succeed. If they don’t perform to the best of their abilities, we sometimes have to replace them. But we don’t eliminate the tools. We NEVER eliminate the tools. In fact, we constantly upgrade our tools and provide continuous employee training so our people are ALWAYS prepared to compete in today’s always-changing and very challenging business world.

As a business person, I focus on the bottom line and on results. When we set a goal, we always take the most prudent and speedy path to achieve it. Why? Because if we see an opportunity in a given geographic market or niche, chances are one of our competitors does, too—or soon will.

I know this much about home rule—virtually every city with whom Rockford competes has it. And most of them are doing much better WITH it than we are WITHOUT it. Look at Aurora, alone. As others have pointed out, Rockford is no longer the second largest city in the state of Illinois. Aurora is. They’ve grown 16.5 percent since 2000, compared to our 1.6 percent growth. Some say that’s because of Aurora’s proximity to Chicago. If that’s the only explanation, why are the communities surrounding Rockford ALSO growing so much faster than the City of Rockford? Loves Park and Belvidere will soon be home rule towns, as a matter of fact, when they reach 25,000 population.

Home rule gives our competitors tools we don’t have—and the ability to act more quickly than we can. Which means we should not be surprised by the fact that we are generally performing more poorly than our competitors. It is an irrefutable fact—and an embarrassing one, frankly—that Rockford is the last and largest city to have abandoned home rule power. There is no point in talking about what might have been—but in the future, home rule will allow Rockford’s Mayor and City Council—our trusted locally-elected officials—tools you need to craft locally-tailored legislation against crime, truancy and slumlords—and to spread the local tax burden more equitably.

Some say that anyone who stands up for home rule is part of a special interest group. I am very especially interested in three things—jobs, jobs and jobs. If Rockford is going to compete in economic development, we need access to the same tools our competitors have. At the end of the day, I know this: If AMCORE is going to grow in Rockford, this city needs to grow jobs. If that makes me part of a special interest group, so be it.

I encourage you to focus more on the fact that we need home rule and less on the notion that using City Council’s state-mandated right to place it on the ballot is somehow “unfair.” It is time to take a strong, positive stand for our collective future and the shortest, most prudent path to the goal of returning to home rule is to place it on the March ballot NOW.

Once home rule is on the ballot, it is my hope that you will do everything in your power to see to it that your constituents learn how it can help our community prosper and why they should vote to approve it.

Now—perhaps more than ever in the history of City Council—you have an opportunity to change Rockford’s future for the better. Doing so is both good government and good business.

Ken Edge is the Chairman of AMCORE Bank in Rockford.

From the Jan. 4-10, 2006, issue

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