By Paul Gorski
How does investing in a new sports facility and a new hotel in downtown Rockford fit in Rockford’s long-term economic development plan? These projects are not mentioned in one major planning document, but that is OK, as long as city leaders know how paying for these projects may affect other plans.
I began a discussion regarding our region’s economic development efforts in “A Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy check-in” in the Jan. 8-14 issue, and wrote a follow-up article, “A Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy check-in — part 2,” in the Jan. 29-Feb. 4 issue. Both articles discussed the value of having a regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy plan (CEDS) to help local governments make planning decisions. However, hotels or sports facilities are not CEDS priorities. Our economic development priorities, as listed in the CEDS plan, are as follow:
• Aerospace Production;
• Alternative Energy;
• Chemical Manufacturing;
• Customer Service Centers;
• Food Processing;
• Health care;
• Industrial Machine Manufacturing;
• Metals Manufacturing;
• On & Off Road Vehicle; and
• Professional Business Services.
I don’t disagree that bringing a sports facility and hotel to downtown Rockford could prove to be a smart economic move. But given the large investments the city will be making in both projects, city leaders must not lose sight of larger regional goals. Will investing in the hotel and sports facility divert funds from projects related to the top 11 priorities listed above? If so, can we live with that?
I say the city can justify the investments in these projects. Many people don’t realize that Rockford is a big sports town. We host all sorts of sporting events and tournaments. Sports tourism is big here, but we have been losing some events because of a lack of certain facilities. What I don’t understand is how expanding our local sporting industry missed being on the CEDS priority list. The sports facility development is moving ahead, but with higher-than-expected costs.
Even though the sports facility project is moving forward, I still suggest the Rockford City Council do a “gut check” and look long and hard at the financing for these two projects, and evaluate what other higher-ranked priorities might be shortchanged as a result of a lack of funds. City council members will likely think to themselves, if they haven’t already, “these are real, tangible opportunities, we are taking advantage of them now because we can.” Tough calls, but at least they are trying.
Paul Gorski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper. Read “Tech-Friendly” at: http://rockrivertimes.com/?s=tech-friendly.
Posted April 2, 2014