Transcript of Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey’s 2013 State of the City address
Editor’s note: Following is the full text of Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey’s State of the City address, titled “Pathways to Prosperity,” given Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.
Pathways to Prosperity
City Council members, fellow elected officials, civic leaders, community members, and guests,
good evening. It’s my privilege tonight to present to you the 2013 State of the City Address to
review with you the City’s operations over the past year and prepare for the coming year and
While we continue to battle through the nation’s longest economic downturn since the great
depression, I am committed to the positive transformation of our community. I am happy to
report tonight that we’ve made real progress as we work with partners across our community to
define, build, and pursue Pathways to Prosperity.
Since my first State of the City Address in 2006, we have rejected the old way of doing things
when we allowed the community to be divided: investing for prosperity on the east while
maintaining concentrated poverty on the west. At best, we hoped that our socalled good
investments on the east side could support our charity work on the west side. This strategy
didn’t work here and didn’t work anywhere in our nation.
This is why I have been committed to Excellence Everywhere for Everyone. Having a shared
vision of excellence does not allow us to divide ourselves economically or socially, legally or
Our Pathways to Prosperity are pathways for all of Rockford. Our road to riches must
include investments throughout our community. We must have high expectations for all of
Rockford or else we will suffer the failures of our past.
We all benefit when we stay true to the vision of Excellence Everywhere.
1● Our citizens’ support for this vision propelled our two successful Rebuilding Rockford
campaigns, which are bringing historically high levels of investment in our roads, rail, and
● Alignment Rockford supports this vision by bringing together elected officials, staff, and
community leaders into a focused and sustained effort to improve our schools.
● And our economic development partners support this vision when we work together to
achieve successes like Woodward, Chrysler, and BE Aerospace.
But we have more work to do.
We know that we have to lower our violent crime rate, reduce our tax burden, and increase job
opportunities for all of our citizens and that means jobs for the citizens we actually have, and
not just the ones we wish we had.
We don’t need Forbes magazine to tell us the obvious and we can’t allow Forbes to define us.
We define ourselves by who we say we are, not by what others say. By the way, the
images you’re seeing are a glimpse of the RACVB’s upcoming marketing response to the
Forbes article I can’t wait to see the rest!
The fact is, we are a great people with tough challenges, just like other American cities. But we
have every reason to be proud of our history and proud of our success. But we have no time to
waste; no time for selfpity; notime for selfloathing.
The road to excellence and prosperity is not easy; but it is much easier and much more
rewarding than the “bigotry of low expectations” that defined us at times in the past. If we are
ready to work to achieve our vision, then nothing on the outside can stop us.
Because of our vision of Excellence Everywhere for Everyone, we are making investments
and building Pathways to Prosperity throughout our City. Tonight I will outline our progress and
our plans for our physical capital and human capital investments. We can’t do one without the
It is not enough to have great streets and bridges; new passenger rail service to Chicago; and
new riverfront pathways. We have to invest in our people and build coordinated and
aligned systems to support positive human development.
An educated, entrepreneurial, engaged, and healthy citizenry is the key to economic prosperity.
As a community, we can’t leave our critical need for lifelong learning to chance. So, tonight, I will
expand on the vision I have previously discussed of a City University Network, which extends
2conceptually what Alignment Rockford has done for k12 education. The City University
Network will engage our community into a broadbased partnership to deliver affordable higher
education and lifelong learning opportunities for all of our citizens.
II. City Operations Review: Fiscal Discipline Empowers Investments
A. Budget Management
You may think the City has fiscal challenges, and we do. But our financial shape remains better
than our State and Federal counterparts. We have challenges, but we pay our bills on time and
we manage our debt responsibly. In these tough economic conditions, we have made progress
in rebuilding our community through ongoing, proactive, and disciplined management.
Over the last several years, we have worked to build sustainable and reliable approaches to
support our longterm goals.
● Today, our Sanitation Fee covers the costs of garbage pickup, street sweeping, and tree
trimming which frees up other general fund revenue for police and fire operations.
● Our Construction Services Department and Water Department operations run solely
on fees charged for those services.
● Our selfinsured Health Insurance Fund is in the black due to higher premiums from our
employees, lower usage, and our focus on wellness and prevention.
● We cut millions in debt in our Redevelopment Fund by exercising discipline.
● We are executing on a sustainable Vehicle Fleet Leasing Program vastly improving the
quality and reliability of our equipment and dramatically lowering our maintenance costs.
● Through the support and choice of our citizens, our Rebuilding Rockford capital funds
are enabling us to retire debt, eliminate finance costs, and leverage millions in State and
● And because of our City Council’s work with the new RAVE organization that now
operates with SMG both the BMO Harris Bank Center and the Coronado Theater, we
expect recurring savings between $800,000 and $1 million per year.
● And again, thanks to our citizens, we passed the Electric Aggregation Referendum
last spring, saving taxpayers an average of 40% on electric power.
This work has not been easy and I commend the citizen lead Budget & Finance Advisory
Group that helped us set the direction for many of these changes back in 2009. We have had to
make tough choices. We have had to say “no” at times to attractive and popular projects and
Despite all of these efforts, we have suffered a declining tax base triggered by the housing
market collapse in 2008 and our ongoing home foreclosure crisis. And, this rate, although high,
is lower than it would have been if we had not switched from a debtbased property tax
3mechanism to a payasyougo sales tax mechanism to pay for our roads.
The decline in our tax base, moreover, has not hit all areas of the city proportionately. Areas in
older, poorer sections of the City have been hit harder by unemployment, poverty, and
foreclosures. These declines have dramatically hurt our revenue base and forced us to make
significant cuts and raise our tax rate to keep up with costs.
Since 2008, we have cut costs in every department except for Police and Fire. Every other
department is spending less in 2013 than 2007.
Our management team and front line personnel have done a great job meeting our service
delivery needs despite significant personnel cuts.
This includes having 60 fewer staff members in Public Works today compared to 2007.
I’d like us to thank our Public Works team lead by Director Tim Hanson for their
outstanding job of keeping the streets maintained and the snow plowed despite these
Our costs have gone up significantly on a per employee basis in Police and Fire for three
1. mandatory pension payment increases to cover the cost of retirees who receive
automatic annual 3% increases;
2. mandatory binding arbitration decisions that have increased the pay of public safety
employee groups over other employee groups; and
3. minimum staffing requirements in our fire contract that force the City to staff at a level
beyond our capacity.
We have cut other parts of the budget so that we can maintain public safety services.
Public Safety is by far the largest part of the City’s operations budget. But we can’t do it
B. Public Safety Operations:
As we have seen in recent years, our Part A major crime rate has continued to fall.
Unfortunately, we have struggled with significant violent crime. With limited resources and
significant public safety needs, we have had to prioritize our expenditures and our Council has
directed all available funding to staffing our Police Department.
One of the areas that has given rise to a great deal of concern and misunderstanding was our
2011 Street Light Reduction Program. I’d like to clarify what we have done and why it was the
4right thing to do.
1. Our City Council voted in December 2010 to reduce street lights to cut costs and save
sworn police officer positions. We knew we had areas of the City with an unusually high
concentration of of street lights. We had approximately 14,000 lights in 2010 before the
reduction year, 2011. We took down approximately 2,300 lights through the course of the
program, with over half of those lights coming from higher traffic arterial and collector
2. As a result of these costcutting efforts, we’re saving approximately $800,000 per year
and those savings are keeping officers on the street. While our City Council could put
back the lights, there is no evidence to support that move.
3. We now have a comprehensive ordinance, the 2013 Residential & Collector Street
Light Policy, to guide our Council when reviewing future requests for street lights. Any
citizen can make a request pursuant to the new Ordinance.
4. Obviously, a street light makes no difference to daytime crime. On average, more
burglaries occur during the day than during the night. In fact, we had a rise in daytime
burglaries in 2012 to 56%, the first full year after we removed the lights. And our overall
burglary rate has fallen by 26% between 2006 and 2012.
5. Counter to what you might think, the areas with the most lights, as shown on the density
map on the left, have the highest number of burglaries.The area with the least lights have
the lowest crime. That was true in 2010 and 2012 before and after the lights were
removed. The evidence clearly shows that streetlights by themselves don’t control
6. So, what factors do impact crime? Our data shows that more crime occurs in high
unemployment and high poverty areas. These also tend to be the same areas with a high
concentration of public housing and section 8 housing. They are also areas with high
concentrations of probationers and parolees. Our data also shows that just under 90% of
residential burglaries occur when a home is not occupied.
7. I’m sensitive to the fact that street lights can give the feeling of safety without actually
addressing the underlying causes of crime. Our job in leadership is to make the best
judgement calls utilizing our limited resources. The bottom line is that we have prioritized
keeping as many officers as possible on the street, as our most critical need.
We’re working to address the underlying causes of crime, but we need the entire community
coming together to succeed.
Transparency, Accountability & Collaboration
5Like we have done for years with our RockStat meetings, I support a collaborative, open, and
accountable review of our progress on public safety. That’s why I’m very pleased that County
Board Chairman Christiansen has committed to recurring Public Safety Summit Meetings,
which will support system accountability.
In fact, I have pushed for a datadriven collaboration between our criminal justice partners since
2008, which I referred to then as JusticeStat. There is nothing more frustrating for our City
Police Officers than having to arrest and rearrest the same individuals over and over. But we
can’t solve this problem alone. We need the collaboration and support of Cops, Courts,
Corrections, and Community to make transformational changes.
Prisoner Reentry Network
When Judge McGraw became our new Chief Judge last year, he brought a renewed spirit of
collaboration and we took a full team of local representatives to visit a successful prisoner
reentry program in Racine, WI. The Racine program has delivered fantastic results.
Now, with the support of Chairman Christiansen, Sheriff Meyers, the Chief Judge, and Probation,
as well as the State DOC, and the U.S. Atttorney’s Office, we have developed a local version of
the Racine approach.
Our first Prisoner Reentry Network parolee meeting will take place later this month. We will
hold violent offenders released back to our community to a higher standard that will be clearly
and consistently communicated. We expect them to stay out of trouble and we have the
commitment of the U.S. Attorney to prosecute federally any new eligible gun crime committed by
Gang and Gun Crime Prosecutions
Guns and gangs are a leading cause of violence in our community. Commencing in summer
2012, Rockford Police began a Felony Gun Case Review with the State’s Attorney and the
US Attorney. The monthly meetings review gun arrests to determine the best prosecution
strategy. In 2012, the US Attorney prosecuted 10 gun offenders. We expect many more in 2013
as there have already been 4 offenders taken by the US Attorney since the start of the year.
CAPS, Neighborhood Leadership & LandlordTenant Ordinance
Our Community members are the front line of support for effective public safety partnerships.
This is why we continue our Citizens Police Academy and Citizens Assisting the Police
program. Our citizens help us set high expectations and reject the disorder and chaos of crime.
To support this goal, we also approved a LandlordTenant Ordinance recently that establishes
clear requirements for a landlord to register their property and provide contact information. A
landlord and tenant can also be found liable now for a chronic nuisance when multiple crimes
occur on the property. The shared goal of this effort is to drive higher standards that benefit
6FaithBased Partners for Public Safety
We have also been blessed to receive the support from numerous faithbased communities,
neighborhood groups, and social service organizations to support our crime reduction efforts.
These partners have helped us in the past and will continue to help us in the future with
programs like our Prisoner Reentry Network. To ensure that our efforts lead to transformation,
however, we must do more than simply provide support. We need accountable support that
starts with high expectations and monitors our progress.
We discovered this past year, for example, that of 66 rental properties where tenants received
rent subsidies for homelessness, our Police Department logged 1000 calls over a twoyear
period. The rental support funding came from the federal government; but our local government
and our local citizens cannot tolerate this outrageously high crime rate.
This is why I need your support to drive an improved and accountable system with our partners
at HUD. Our citizens deserve to know that the people receiving financial support from taxpayers
are not abusing that privilege.
Fair Housing Listening Sessions
As we push for accountability, however, I am aware of our responsibility to ensure fair housing in
our community, free from discrimination and segregation. So, from March 12 to March 14, we
will be hosting public meetings to discuss the challenges we face in meeting fair housing
standards. This discussion will also cover the challenge we face to reduce an
overconcentration of public housing and the need to provide crimefree housing.
Human Relations Commission
I’m also announcing tonight my support for starting a Human Relations Commission to provide
a forum and voice for addressing community concerns regarding equity and respect for all our
citizens, including fair housing challenges. I look forward to working with our City Council to
develop that ordinance.
In the final analysis, to reduce crime, we must set high standards and forge the best possible
partnerships between citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders. It is for these reasons that I
a supporting Geographic Based Policing.
Geo Policing is the best strategy to support our citizens and leverage the power of our citizens.
Let me reaffirm that the City has the financial ability to operate our department under a
geographic policing approach. In fact, we’re actively working to hire up to 22 new officers this
year to meet our budgeted level of 285 sworn officers. Geo Policing is the right thing to do and
that’s why we need to move forward on our plan now.
7● First, our plan will show that the cost of renovating three existing smaller buildings will be
less than or equivalent to the cost of a single large new building and will give us the
approach most supportive of our community’s needs.
● Second, we simply cannot stay in the dilapidated and outdated old Public Safety Building.
If we do nothing, our costs will skyrocket since the County will soon be out of the PSB
entirely leaving only the City to carry the building’s growing costs, now over $1.5 million
● Finally, we can’t afford to wait. Our failed results of the past demonstrate the terrible cost
of defending the status quo. Our citizens want geo policing and our leadership team
wants geo policing. We can do it efficiently and effectively.
C. Pension & Collective Bargaining Reform
In the spirit of the lifelong Cubs fan that I am, I keep wanting to believe that this is the year…for
pension and collective bargaining reform.
All kidding aside, let me say this: I have great respect for our Police and Fire personnel, like I do
for all of the City’s employees. When I critique or comment on salaries, benefits, or any
other issue, it’s not because I don’t respect and support them; I do it because it’s my job.
Local taxpayers simply can’t afford to pay what was promised or guaranteed by past State
legislatures. We need reforms now.
I am asking for the same reforms as last year, with one addition. We are also asking for the right
to have Arbitration Hearings Open to the Public. It is unconscionable that an unelected,
outoftown arbitrator can hit us with a forced pay increase or benefits increase and the public is
shut out of the process!
Representative Sosnowski has filed a bill designed to fix the problem. There will likely be a
hearing on the matter next week. Please let him and other State leaders know that you support
this important bill.
III. Investing in Prosperity Everywhere: The Physical Rebuilding & Maintenance of our
To achieve Excellence Everywhere, we must invest in Excellence Everywhere
Consequently, we are working to drive high expectations and significant investments throughout
our community, which includes the east side.
● The East State Street retail shopping corridor has helped the community compete well
8for sales tax revenues and commercial and hospitality amenities.
● The City has annexed almost all of the available land west of the Tollway and hundreds of
acres east of the Tollway.
● The Tollway Authority completely rebuilt the interchange of I90 and US20 at over $60
million just a few years ago.
● I personally lobbied for the Tollway to include the widening of I90 when they were voting
on the plan.
● In 2012, we incentivized and landed the Swedish American Regional Cancer Center at
I90 and Riverside.
● And our east side retail strength is about to get even stronger.
The Perryville Promenade has just been announced. It will be anchored by a Meijer
Superstore and will ultimately feature over 600,000 square feet of retail. The project is projected
to create over 1,000 construction jobs and hundreds of fulltime jobs.
B. Central/State Street Corridor Investments
We have also approved a new TIF for the East State Street Corridor from Alpine to Mulford
to ensure that we build and maintain the infrastructure before it falls into further decay. Vacant
properties and blight have been creeping into this area for years. With major anchor institutions
like OSF St. Anthony Hospital and Rockford College, we know we have outstanding assets
from which to build. It was critical to act before more damage was done.
We have great retail, residential, and commercial properties as well as outstanding parks in this
area. We need to connect these assets, including the allseason recreational facility, Alpine
Hills Adventure Park, that the Park District is planning at the site of the old Alpine Hills Golf
C. West Side Investments: Roads, Rail, Runways, & Riverfront
On our City’s west side, in 2013 we will make great strides in building Pathways to Prosperity.
Much of our City’s west side infrastructure seemed ignored for over 50 years. This year, we’ll
see great progress.
● South Main Street will be fully under construction;
● We will be close to completing the construction of our new Morgan Street Bridge; and
● We will work on the architecture and engineering for the new $13 million South Main
MultiModal Rail Station. We’re making progress on the design, but we need to push
the State for progress on improving the tracks that will carry the passenger trains.
And I agree with the RAEDC Regional Diversification Plan, which calls on us to
9“Continue to build broadbased regional support for passenger rail connections
between Chicago and the Rockford region.”
With your support, I know we’ll get it done.
Unfortunately, it appears that the State’s preferred route has costs well above the original
estimate. I will be meeting later this month with State Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider to
discuss this concern and we need our community to join in pushing for a resolution.
● After years of planning and site acquisition, we’ll also begin Phase I of Rebuilding West
State Street, our City’s main western gateway. This project required acquiring over 100
properties and will bring a dramatic improvement to the area.
● Rebuilding of West State Street also supports the Rockford Housing Authority’s
Choice Neighborhood Plan. The transformation plan for Rockford’s Ellis
Heights/Fairgrounds neighborhood identified five key initiatives: jobs, youth, physical
improvements, capacity building, and education. We look forward to our continued work
with RHA and HUD to make the plan a reality.
● The North Main and Auburn Roundabout will also be under construction this year
after years of development. I have been pleased to work with stakeholders including local
attorney and historian, Tom Johnson. As we are completing the design of the
intersection, we will define a signature theme that will celebrate Rockford history and
provide a fitting tribute to our veterans.
● As we have hoped, the completion of the Main and Auburn roundabout has also spurred
interest from developers. We have begun discussions and hope to move a significant
retail project forward this year at that intersection.
● This will not, however, be the City’s first roundabout. That first occurred last year at
College Avenue and Seminary Street as part of the Morgan Street Bridge project and a
mixed use housing and retail development adjacent to the intersection.
I am also excited and proud of our continued investments along our riverfront, including our
completed Riverwalk adjacent to the Riverfront Museum Park. Making public investments
along the riverfront was one of the top recommendations of the 2012 RAEDC Regional
Strategy 2B.1: Leverage public investments along the Rock River to generate
private sectordriven urban revitalization centered on the region’s most valuable
10For the first time in my lifetime, you can actually see and access the riverfront at this important
community site. Our community’s commitment to projects like this and our willingness to lobby
for tools like our River Edge State Historic Tax Credits is supporting private sector jobs and
● In 2012, for example, we saw the start of the massive undertaking to renovate the Prairie
Street Brewery Building. The home for the past two years of Dinner on the Dock and
many weddings and banquets, the project should be completed by midyear and will
feature fulltime restaurants, commercial office space, and housing.
● Our City investments downtown have also encouraged private sector spending in
projects like the new retail center at Jefferson and Third, which is the first new retail
construction project we’ve had in many years downtown, making a dramatic
improvement to a blighted site.
● The City also supported in 2012 the opening of The District restaurant and nightclub
downtown, adding another fine restaurant and music venue to support our community.
● And in 2013, with support from our City Council and the use of State River Edge
Redevelopment Zone Capital funds, construction will commence on the Indoor City
Market to Complement our very successful Outdoor Market.
City Council has also approved the sale of bonds and the hiring of architects and engineers to
transform the old Ingersoll Building along the riverfront into a multisport recreational
facility as part of the region’s Reclaiming First tourism plan.
This work delivers on another recommendation from the Regional Diversification Plan to build
a downtown destination project:
Strategy 2B.3: Consider using incentives to attract a destination project
(design/visual arts school, hotel/restaurant/retail complex, etc.) that can serve as
a catalyst to spur a greater level of activity along downtown Rockford’s riverfront.
The multiple uses for the new Ingersoll Sports Facility include destination tournaments and
sports for our local schools. We are leveraging approximately $8 million in State funds to make
this project possible, and the balance will be covered by our Redevelopment Fund, which has
those dollars available because we made the hard decisions as a City Council.
In 2012, we further paved the way for progress along our riverfront with the demolition of the
old Tapco Building and the agreement we reached with developer, Gorman & Company, to
determine the feasibility of redeveloping the old Amerock Building.
11The commitment by the City to move forward with the Ingersoll Sports Facility has been
instrumental. In the weeks ahead, we will work with Gorman as they complete a feasibility
analysis for a destination hotel and conference center at the old Amerock Building,
which we hope will lead to a positive decision to move forward.
IV. Partnerships for Prosperity:The City University Network
As I have said, the key to prosperity is improving educational attainment and Alignment
Rockford is helping us achieve rapid improvements. I am thankful to our local employers that
are responding to the invitation to help. In 2012, dozens of employers came to the Alignment
Rockford Academy Expo demonstrating careers in 64 different fields to over 1400 Jefferson
students. We’ll need even more help next year when the 2013 Academy Expo is held on
September 18th and over 5,000 RPS 205 students are expected to attend. We’ll need 140
careers demonstrated to handle students from all the high schools.
Together, we are designing real life contextual learning and mentoring opportunities for all of our
children. But we have more work to do to meet our higher education and lifelong learning needs.
My intention is to leverage what we have learned from Alignment Rockford and leverage our
physical asset investments to expand lifelong learning opportunities. We don’t have a major
Illinois public undergraduate university here; but we do have so much to build upon that we don’t
need to beg the State for something that is not going to happen. The alternative to one big public
higher education provider is the creation of a managed, flexible network of providers. This is the
idea behind the City University of Rockford Network.
As I have stated previously, the world of higher education is on the verge of rapid change.
The current cost structure and value proposition is simply not sustainable.
The good news is that because of advances in online learning, much of the traditional classroom
lecture experience is becoming a commodity. Rockford is poised to benefit from our large
number of employer and community assets that can become unique experiences in a new
model for a university.
You may have heard of a concept emerging in education called the “flipped” classroom, which
has been described as follows:
In a flipped classroom the traditional method of lecturing in class and assigning homework for students
to complete at home is reversed. Students listen and watch lectures via video on their own time outside of
class, and use the time in class to complete homework, work through problems, collaborate with others
and the instructor, discuss advanced concepts, and other more engaging or interactive activities.
12″Information is not instruction.” David Merrill. Utah State University
I would like to extend the notion of the flipped classroom to the flipped college. College and
higher education in the future will emphasize experiences outside the classroom where students
are learning with other students or an employer as they test and experiment with the content.
Consequently, if we are open to creating extensive career and community connections for high
school students through Alignment Rockford, then we can extend that approach to college
The idea is relatively simple, we’re building off of our local employment strengths and inviting
education partners to join us.
In 2013, my goal is to launch the City University Network brand and explore academic
divisions focused on our core strengths and core needs.
Let me provide a snapshot of the types of things that we can do to make this vision a reality.
B. Supporting Student Life and a “College Town” Identity.
At any given time in Rockford, we have over 12,000 enrolled students taking college and other
postsecondary course work at several institutions.
Our community also boasts many amenities that would be the envy of any college or university
including outstanding parks and recreation, a robust mass transit system, and numerous
libraries and museums.
Despite all of the colleges, despite all of the students, and despite all of the amenities, why don’t
we have the personality or reputation of being a college town? In short, the many parts have
not equaled a whole. This is the reason we need to build the City University Network.
The longterm, cumulative investments of our partners must be leveraged into a new, branded
identity for higher education.
To move the vision forward, we are exploring several ideas including:
● A shared, multicollege campus incorporating elements like housing, a retail village,
library, and student center. A concept like this could be built, for example, along our
riverfront, incorporating both existing and new buildings.
● In fact, I have asked the Rockford Housing Authority to work with us and work with HUD
to explore the feasibility of converting some of the RHA’s downtown housing high rises to
shared student housing.
13● With over 12,000 higher education students in Rockford, we have a great opportunity to
build a concentration of students in our downtown along our riverfront to support our City
University Network vision.
● With the creation of the Ingersoll sports facility, moreover, there is no reason why we
can’t support college intramural sports and tournaments like we do high school sports.
With my time remaining, let me cover some of the potential higher education “lab” experiences
that our community can build with our private sector partners. I am only highlighting these areas
tonight. The real work to make any of these visions happen will occur tomorrow and beyond.
I invite those of you who support these concepts to let me know by checking out the
Facebook Fan Page that we will are creating to continue the conversation.
C. Program Concept 1: The Center for Public Safety
Today, a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent has become the minimum level of attainment
needed to be hired by our Police and Fire Departments. Consequently, our leadership is working
to identify local pathways for Rockford citizens to complete a bachelor’s degree program right
here to prepare them for success in our organization.
● The process has started with the creation of Explorer’s Posts that enable teenage
Rockford students to begin working with our Police and Fire Department personnel.
● We are working with District 205 to create academic pathways that will connect upper
level 205 students into creditbased public safety courses.
● We are also exploring dual credit and dual enrollment possibilities with our local colleges
to give Rockford students a jump start into a college.
● The next step is partnering to ensure that all of the necessary college course are
available right here. This is why we must grow our City University Network.
● A partnership between the City of Rockford and Rockford College, for example, can
support this education pathways and be the heart of our Network .
● The final piece will be designing and approving a cadet program that would allow for paid
internships and jobs for students who are at least 18 years of age and are preparing for
police or fire public safety career.
Having police and fire science education paths and jobtraining paths would be a huge
improvement to our City organization. This effort would add immediate workforce
capacity, improve our recruiting success rate, and improve our workforce diversity.
14D. Program Concept 2: The Illinois Institute for Aviation & Aerospace
Another program concept with immediate potential is the Illinois Institute for Aviation &
Aerospace at Rockford.
We have local aerospace employers with worldclass labs and experiences outside the
classroom that could round out a student’s education. In fact, those are the exact opportunities
that we explored when the community came together to recruit EmbryRiddle Aeronautical
There is no reason why we can’t create those same opportunities outside the classroom for
other colleges and universities that are here or who would come here.
That’s the precise logic behind the JiETA program that has been launched through a
partnership between the RAEDC, NIU, Rock Valley College, and Rockford College.
The Regional Diversification Plan discusses the need to support the continued work of
Strategy 4A.4: Provide continued support for the JiETA (Joint Institute of
Engineering & Technology | Aerospace) publicprivate training program to ensure
its success in expanding the Rockford region’s pipeline of future skilled
The goal is to recruit and retain students to pursue multiple available career paths in the
aerospace engineering field and to even offer the opportunity for dual enrollment to advanced
high school students who can begin their college credit work through the partnership.
If we can make the JiETA partnership work for aerospace engineering, there is no reason that
we can’t provide the same opportunities in other areas of aerospace like maintenance, repair,
and overhaul or even flight training.
While the Rockford Airport leadership is pursuing opportunities to land a major MRO employer,
our ability to do so depends on our ability to support training and education for certified
This idea of an Aviation & Aerospace Institute is a vision worth supporting right now.
Let me pause for a moment to thank outgoing RAEDC Executive Director, Janyce Fadden, for
15her leadership, vision, and friendship in supporting efforts like JiETA and so many other
creative economic development efforts for our community. Janyce, we wish you the best and
you will be greatly missed.
E. Program Concept 3: The Center for Health, Wellness, & Technology
For a community to be livable and thrive it must be healthy. We have a unique chance to be a
beacon of good health, to expand our health care industry, connect it to our schools and career
pathways for our children, and to improve the health of our employees and citizens.
Based on the success of our own health plan initiatives as well as the demand for community
health and wellness, we are working with the developer for the BarberColman campus,
BelmontSayre, on a vision of this site as a center for Health, Education, & Technology.
Ladies and Gentlemen we have the tools, the infrastructure, and the talent to lead the nation and
build a Center for Health, Wellness & Technology. This is a critical path to our prosperity and
it is a goal of my administration. This approach builds from of our local healthcare strengths and
our planned physical investments around BarberColman. It makes sense and we should
explore now the opportunity to be a catalyst for that vision through the City’s RFP for an onsite or
near site clinic.
F. Program Concept 4: The Downtown Center for Art & Design
I spoke last year of a vision of creating a downtown arts campus. I still support that vision. I am
also encouraged that the concept of a high school curriculum and college campus focused on
design was recently supported by the Regional Diversification Plan. The plan calls for the
creation of a downtown design college, design curriculum, and design campus, including office,
residential, and incubator spaces.
Strategy 4B.1: Work with the Rockford region’s business, government, and
community leaders to fund the development or attraction of a design school into
Strategy 4B.2: Integrate design curriculum in the Rockford region’s K12 schools
as well as Rock Valley Community College, Rockford College, and NIU Rockford
to prepare the region’s future workforce for the design industry.
Strategy 4B.3: Establish and support the growth of a mixeduse “Design District”
in the zone immediately surrounding the new design school in downtown
Rockford that concentrates the region’s designrelated educational facilities,
provides incubator and prototyping space, houses design studios and office
16space, and provides livework housing opportunities for design professionals.
This plan is another great concept with incredible longterm job and economic
opportunities for our community. It’s a concept that is ready for us today because in our
21st Century Global Economy:
● Content creation, production, broadcasting, and recording are no longer the exclusive
domain of hollywood, NY, or Chicago.
● Designing and creating products are no longer the exclusive domain of large companies
with huge research budgets.
● The concept of an art and design campus can involve all aspects of art and design:
visual arts; performing arts; digital arts and entertainment; industrial design and
● Progress toward this vision has been made through the recent acquisition of the former
First Presbyterian Church by the Mendelssohn Club. Mendelssohn has had great initial
success and is preparing to be a strong partner supporting this concept.
● Moreover, there is no reason why we cannot extend our art and design offerings to
include the culinary arts and build on our midwest strengths to create The Illinois
Institute for Local Foods, Agriculture, Hospitality & Culinary Arts. This concept
leverages our State’s outstanding history in agricultural education; our local culinary and
hospitality strengths; and our State’s emphasis on supporting a local foods economy.
● There is no reason to delay incorporating the study of the arts and design into the fabric
of who we are as was recommended in the Regional Diversification Plan.
G. Transforming our Efforts from Maintaining Poverty into Creating Pathways to
Our vision for an arts and design campus can and should include opportunities for all of our
citizens. At one time, many of our residents could have learned on the job skills necessary to
make a reasonable living. In a service economy, however, many have found themselves lacking
the skills and aptitude to succeed. Without a wellpaying job, without self worth, we have
suffered many devastating impacts including higher unemployment, higher poverty, and higher
The clear winners in our economy are the owners. Unfortunately, we have lost many locally
owned companies and many of our residents lack the skills to obtain higher paying service jobs.
To address this challenge, the Regional Diversification Plan also includes the development of
17business and entrepreneurship curriculum for our schools and colleges:
Strategy 1B.1: Work with the region’s public K12 schools, EIGERlab, and Rock
Valley College Small Business Development Center to integrate stronger
business curricula (especially entrepreneurship and international business) and
junior achievement programs into the region’s schools.
Because of our City’s partnership with the RAEDC and the EIGER Lab, we already support
manufacturing entrepreneurship and business development for existing or startup businesses.
The problem is that:
● We do not have an entrepreneurshipbased education platform for our schools.
● We also do not have an entrepreneurship pathway for individuals who are in poverty.
As I have stated, we need to make sure our learning and employment pathways are true
pathways for the citizens we actually have, not just for the citizens we wish we had.
This means that we have to have meaningful and challenging opportunities for people who may
be coming back to our community from the jail system or for people who have lived in public
housing and have little employment experience.
You may have read over the past weekend of a local collaboration that we have been developing
with the online marketplace, Etsy.
● Etsy enables people to buy and sell handcrafted goods directly.
● Last year, its online platform provided $900 million in sales for small craft manufacturers and
vintage sellers, with sales growing around 70% yearly.
● Our Etsy partnership has two components: (1) designing an entrepreneurship
curriculum for traditional students and adult, continuing education students; and (2)
utilizing the Etsy sales platform as a “living lab” to learn entrepreneurship skills and
earn money at the same time.
In a way, Etsy takes us back to our City’s origins as a home for so many European immigrants
who located here with their native craft making skills and a distinct entrepreneurial and
pioneering spirit. Together, we built a culture and habit for entrepreneurship and manufacturing.
That was a great recipe for prosperity then; and it is a recipe to which we are about to return.
[Run Etsy Video]
18To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Tonight is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the
end. But, perhaps, it’s the end of the beginning.’
We’ve laid a foundation for success by having the courage to invest in ourselves and our City.
Our future economy will range from our growing aerospace cluster to handmade artisan goods
created here and sold across the globe. In our new economy, we’re building Pathways to
Prosperity for all of our citizens and throughout our community.
We’re defining ourselves by the choices we are making now, not by our past.
That’s all that matters.
You see, the pathway to prosperity, it’s a pathway for everyone. We’re not going to
segregate people who may be poor or have had challenges. We’re not going to relegate
them to the past, relegate them to another part of our community. They are our
community, we are their community. We’re one Rockford.
* * *
I have been proud to be your mayor for nearly eight years. A lot has changed in my life and in the
life of this City over that time. While my agenda is much the same as it was eight years ago,
having a wife and children increases exponentially the depth of meaning of the work.
As I have said many times in the past, we have to act as though nobody from the outside is
coming to save us. We have to make our own opportunities.
That’s why I reached out to Etsy’s CEO, Chad Dickerson, and I am so proud of the team we
have assembled to make our partnership with Etsy a national success story.
You see, Rockford is not alone. And I think, no, I know, that we can lead, we can create a new
Pathway to Prosperity, and not only for our own people.
We can demonstrate Pathways to Prosperity for our entire country.
Rockford isn’t done.
We have not been left behind.
We are leaders.
We can do and become whatever we want… and we will.
God Bless You. Goodnight.
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