So, what kind of future do you want?

We have arrived at an important juncture in the development of our fair city. It has come time for us to choose among the following:

Rockford: Best little slaughterhouse in the Midwest!

Rockford: Yeah, we gots us one of them gamblin’ boats, too!

Rockford: Home of the first public city university founded in the 21st century!

OK, take your pick. Over the last 20 or so years, we’ve been engaged in a cycle of losing major—somewhat desirable—employers, and trying to fill the job losses by entering into tax-credit bidding wars with other municipalities. The results have been mixed. I like watching the UPS jets making their approach to the airport. I’ve always been a fan of aviation. It’s too bad, though, that most of the jobs that were created can’t sustain families.

So now we are trying a new tripartite strategy. We’re trying to attract more airlines so people and packages can pass through the area. We’re trying to get riverboat gambling so we can blend in with all of the other communities that provide a place for people to lose money. We’re creating a home for any industry that sane people don’t want in their own back yard. What’s next? Forget Yucca Mountain! Stash your nuclear waste in Rockford!

What we really need is something visionary, something that aspires to the extraordinary, something that can’t easily be outsourced to Mexico, China or India, something that actually adds some stature and value to our future on the “I-90 corridor.” We need a solid, respectable cornerstone on which to build our community. We need a fully accredited, four-year university with a graduate school thrown in for good measure.

Why not? I’ve been floating this idea for a year or so. I’ve heard things like, “Rockford College is too powerful. They won’t allow it to happen.” One community college official that I happened to be golfing with said, “NIU will fight it. They’ve already made a substantial commitment to Rockford.” All this negativity and naysaying lead me to believe I am on to something.

They are already promoting plans for the Reed-Chatwood complex to be renovated into some kind of “college center.” Why not bite the bullet, and haul off and make it into a full-blown university?

One of the things that will attract employers and employees is the ability to provide a learn-while-you-earn, rigorous, worthy MBA program. Many employers have lamented their inability to draw top-shelf talent to the area. A solid MBA program would help attract those who are keen to scale the management ladder. Also, a university would help Rockford become the kind of metropolis that draws—rather than repels—professionals. By the way, wouldn’t it be ironic if Rockford also became home to one of the best teachers’ colleges in the nation… especially considering our sad recent history in matters of public education?

We need to make our little oasis into an attractive spot along this highly touted I-90 corridor. What could be a better attraction than a university? It could revitalize the town. It could help beautify the Rock River below Fordham Dam. Chicagoland parents could ship their offspring out here for schooling on the new commuter train, and save the expense—and anxiety—of making sure their kids have wheels. Why? Because once here, they could live in the factories redeveloped into dormitories, shop for food at Gray’s IGA, seek entertainment in the downtown area, and jump on the train back home when they need to bleed their parents for more money. It’d be great!

Let’s call it the University of Rockford. Let’s make the school colors red and gold. Let’s form a not-for-profit corporation and start selling jerseys, sweatshirts and coffee mugs. They would be red with the golden letters UR emblazoned on them. School ware is big business. By selling the brand first, we could actually start our school off with a profit rather than a bond issue. Wouldn’t that make our MBA program look good from the get-go?

We need to get busy on this. We need to choose regents. We need to create a city charter for the institution. We need to form lines for the looming political battles. There are curricula to adopt, teachers to hire, and students to woo.

Think of how it could be in a few short years. We could be cheering the UR Rockets basketball team at the MetroCentre. We could be watching the teams play football and baseball at a revitalized Marinelli Field. We could actually have something to be unabashedly proud of in this town.

Let’s go over the choices one more time:

Rockford: We got the meat if you don’t mind the smell!

Rockford: We got a boatful of people losing money!

Rockford: UR Great!

Now, collar every public official you can think of, write letters, send e-mails, make phones ring, call in to WNTA and discuss the topic. Don’t waste a second. Don’t lose sight of the prize. You can do this, Rockford. Destiny awaits.

Jeffrey Lawson is an advertising sales representative at The Rock River Times and is a Rockford resident.

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