A community-wide effort launches in Rockford to change the direction in which the community's headed.
It's called Transform Rockford. The group held its first public forum a the Coronado Performing Arts Center. People lined up outside the Coronado waiting to get in, and filled the first floor. It was standing room only. The crowd of about 1,200 spilled into the balcony too.
Event organizers started by making a case for change, and presented some brutal facts - and they were brutal - about poverty, unemployment, crime - nothing we haven't already heard. But that case led to a call to action. The effort is lead by Woodward CEO, Tom Gendron.
"I think we've got to overcome some of these things that have brought us down," he says. "But there's macro-trends in the economy and the world economy that favor our community. And if we can grab those we can change that direction. And that's what I want to try to help with."
The Rockford native has more invested in the community than his company's $300 million dollar expansion. Most of his family is still here.
"43 family members live in Rockford. I have 1,400 colleagues and growing. I grew up here. I went to Spring Creek School, Eisenhower, Guilford, University of Illinois, and Rockford College. So I know the community. I want to help. I think it can be better than it is," Gendron says.
Gendron pointed out to the crowd, Rockford's transformed before, from a furniture industry focus, to manufacturing, to fasteners, to now aerospace and automotive.
He adds, "We want to get to something that's really going to change the direction of the community and then get feedback on that. And then once we get that feedback and everybody says, 'Hey, that's what I want," now we have ownership and what we're going to then do is show the strategies that are necessary."
This is a process. This is not a silver bullet," says Pilgrim Baptist Church Pastor Kenneth Board who is part of the Transform Rockford team. "So we have to hear the people and then we have to act on what we hear. That's the way to keep people committed and then they will go and bring others. People want to be heard in this city. We all have one common need and that's to have a wholesome lifestyle."
UTC Aerospace System's Rudy Valdez was also a presenter. He also believes inclusion is the key to keeping Thursday night's enthusiasm and energy going. "I think the big takeaway, and I was fortunate enough to give it, is that we all matter. We all matter," Valdez says. "And that's where the whole inclusion point comes in. It's super important that people feel that their voice is heard. And even if things go in a different direction than the original, than what people expect, after they get more information they might realize that, 'O.K., I thought one way. But based on this information here's another way. I'm good with it.' As long as we communicate that, I think we'll be good."
The next Transform Rockford event is scheduled for December 14th at Rockford's Ellis Arts Academy. We here at WREX are committed to keeping you informed as the process continues. Watch for updates on TV, here on our website, our Facebook page, or on Twitter.