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Winnebago County rankings improve – very slightly

The health of Winnebago County’s residents improved compared with the rest of the state in 2016 – by the slightest of margins.

According to the Robert Wood Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, Winnebago County’s overall health ranked 87 out of the 102 counties in the state in its 2017 rankings. That’s not good, but it is better than the 2016 ranking (based on 2015 figures) of 88.

The rankings were released this week and in some cases, we are making progress:

  • The percentage of adults who smoke was just 17 percent in 2016, down from a high of 25 percent in 2012.
  • The number of teen births out of 1,000 dropped to 40. That’s down from 52 in 2012.
  • Our uninsured percentage in 2016 fell to 11 percent, down from 15 percent in 2014.
  • The county unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in 2016, down from 15.2 percent in 2012 (having a job means better health).
  • The child poverty rate ticked down to 23 percent, down from 28 percent in 2013.

Those are the positives. The negatives?

  • The obesity rate in 2016 ticked up to 34 percent, its highest level yet. It started at 28 percent in 2011.
  • The percentage of people who say they are physically inactive remained at 27 percent in 2016. It hasn’t moved much upward or downward even with increasing awareness paid to the subject.
  • In 2016, 19 percent said they drink excessively. This ties the high since the surveys started in 2011. Still, that’s two percentage points below the state level of 21 percent.
  • The violent crime rate of 832 per 10,000 people in 2016 was the lowest since 2012, but still nearly twice the state average.
  • In 2016, 17 percent still reported severe housing problems. That has ticked upward even in the improving economy.

Overall, a mixed bag and a long ways away from healthy communities. The top ranked county in Illinois was Monroe County, south of St. Louis.

In Monroe County:

  • 13 percent of adults smoke.
  • 6 percent are uninsured.
  • The unemployment rate was 4.4 percent.
  • Only 6 percent of children live in poverty.
  • Only 9 percent reported severe housing problems.
  • Only 42 people out of 10,000 were victims of violent crime.

Those are all good numbers. Monroe’s ranking though shows how deep the obesity epidemic runs. Even in Monroe County, supposedly the healthiest county in Illinois, the obesity rate was 33 percent.


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Winnebago County bucking trend on Social Security

Entitlement reform always is a popular topic in Washington D.C., no more so when a new administration takes over.

Social Security if the biggest entitlement program of all and always central in any of those discussions. Interestingly, according to annual statistics published by the Social Security Administration, overall recipients fell in 2015 for the second straight year.

As of Dec. 1, 2015, there were 8.31 million people receiving Social Security benefits of some kind. That was down from the 8.355 million in 2014 and the 8.363 million in 2013 when recipients peaked.

The decline was due to fewer people drawing disability payments in the improving economy. There were 7.206 million receiving disability benefits in 2013 and that was down to 7.152 million in 2015. The number of people age 65 and older receiving benefits rose to 2.15 million in 2015, an all-time high.

Winnebago County bucked a couple of those trends. Social Security recipients here rose both in 2014 and 2015 to a record 7,283. Those receiving disability benefits continued to grow as well, up to 6,882. Recipients age 65 and above actually declined slightly from 979 to 970. The amount of money coming into the county monthly from Social Security was $4.36 million, up from $2.99 million just 10 years before.

Where can Transform Rockford affect these trends? An area with an increasingly educated and well-trained workforce will attract better businesses, which in turn will attract younger and more educated workers, which would drive down the percentage of our population receiving Social Security benefits.


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Rockford still top 100 in labor productivity – but growth is stagnating

The Rockford metropolitan workforce was one of the 100 most productive in the United States in 2015, according to an ambitious new statistical analysis of worker productivity by the Brookings Institute.

The study though highlighted some troubling trends on our diverging fortunes both nationally and locally.

Brookings calculated labor productivity by taking the Gross Domestic Product of the nation’s 382 metro area – as calculated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis – and dividing it by the Current Employment Statistics and Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from the Department of Labor.

The statistics showed that overall labor productivity slowed markedly since 2004. There are a variety of factors – declining breakthroughs, unequal value in major sectors like education, healthcare and housing to the fact that the Great Recession ate up five of those years.

The second major point is that the economies of the United States continue to diverge. If you look at the top 10 in labor productivity, they are either major tech hubs (San Jose, Calif.; Hartford, Conn.; New York City) or benefitting from the oil and gas boom (Midland, Houston and Beaumont, Texas). In Midland, each worker is producing $299,760 annually and the No. 10 area, produces $147,530.  At the bottom end is Jacksonville, North Carolina, whose economy revolves around the United States Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station, where workers produced just $38,120 per worker.

The positive aspect for Rockford is that even with the struggles of the manufacturing sector since 1980, Rockford ranked 100th out of the 382 metro areas. Each worker produced about $106,830. Why is productivity important? As Brookings explained, “rising productivity is a prerequisite for long-term real wage growth and increased living standards… it is generally acknowledged that it will be very hard for incomes to rise without increases in productivity.”

Labor productivity (GDP per worker) 2015

Top 10

Rank

Metro Area

Productivity

1.

Midland, Texas

$299,760

2.

Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas

$174,220

3.

San Jose-Santa Clara, Calif.

$173,970

4.

Odessa, Texas

$166,960

5.

Houston, Texas

$156,810

6.

Bridgeport-Stamford, Conn.

$151,620

7.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

$150,450

8.

Los Angeles, Calif.

$149,160

9.

Hartford, Conn.

$148,360

10.

New York City, NY

$147,530

Illinois metro areas

15.

Bloomington, Illinois

$135,120

49.

Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

$119,460

51.

Chicago, Illinois

$118,770

60.

Decatur, Illinois

$115,290

68.

Peoria, Illinois

$112,240

73.

Danville, Illinois

$111,890

82.

Carbondale-Marion, Illinois

$110,620

100.

Rockford, Illinois

$106,830

106.

Kankakee, Illinois

$106,660

112.

Springfield, Illinois

$105,840

Bottom 10

373.

Sierra Vista, Arizona

$71,550

374.

Yuma, Arizona

$71,100

375.

Killeen-Temple, Texas

$68,100

376.

Sumter, South Carolina

$67,610

377.

Great Falls, Montana

$66,320

378.

Lawton, Oklahoma

$64,390

379.

Clarksville, Tenn.-Ky.

$63,170

380.

Fayetteville, N.C.

$62,250

381.

Hinesville, Georgia

$50,220

382.

Jacksonville, N.C.

$38,120

The troubling thing for Rockford is that, like wage growth, labor productivity in our still manufacturing-dependent economy, is not rising as quickly as other metro areas. As you’ll see in the charts below, labor productivity rose just
0.92 percent annually from 1978 to 2015, which ranked 235th out of 382. In contrast, Fort Knox’s labor productivity averaged a 2.9 percent increase each year.

Annual labor productivity growth % (1978-2015)

Rank

Metro Area

Pct. Growth

1.

Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, Kentucky

2.88%

2.

San Jose-Santa Clara, Calif.

2.72%

3.

Hinesville, Georgia

2.51%

4.

New Bern, North Carolina

2.36%

5.

Killeen-Temple, Texas

2.35%

6.

Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.

2.34%

7.

El Centro, Calif.

2.18%

8.

Norwich-New London, Conn.

2.16%

9.

Rocky Mount, North Carolina

2.14%

10.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

2.05%

196.

Chicago, Illinois

1.02%

235.

Rockford, Illinois

0.92%

More concerning is that Rockford’s labor productivity is increasingly lagging the country.

  • From 1978 to 1995, our labor productivity growth ranked 180th overall with an average of 0.94%.
  • From 1995 to 2004, a very good time for the economy, labor productivity here grew at a 1.39% clip, but that ranked 271st overall.
  • From 2004 to 2015, labor productivity increased just at a 0.43% rate, which ranked 213rd.

Annualvlabor productivity growth % (1978-1995)

Rank

Metro Area

Pct. Growth

1.

Hilton Head Island, S.C.

3.85%

2.

Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, Ky.

3.67%

3.

Norwich-New London, Conn.

3.30%

4.

New Bern, North Carolina

3.29%

5.

Fairbanks, Alaska

3.28%

173.

Chicago, Illinois

0.97%

180.

Rockford, Illinois

0.94%

Annual labor productivity growth % (1995-2004)

Rank

Metro Area

Pct. Growth

1.

Corvallis, Oregon

6.73%

2.

Norwich-New London, Conn.

4.35%

3.

Hinesville, Georgia

4.26%

4.

San Jose-Santa Clara, Calif.

4.26%

5.

Kokomo, Indiana

3.99%

192.

Chicago, Illinois

1.85%

271.

Rockford, Illinois

1.39%

Annual labor productivity growth % (2004-2015)

Rank

Metro Area

Pct. Growth

1.

Midland, Texas

4.90%

2.

Enid, Oklahoma

3.13%

3.

Odessa, Texas

2.81%

4.

San Jose-Santa Clara, Calif.

2.80%

5.

Wichita Falls, Texas

2.37%

213.

Rockford, Illinois

0.49%

233.

Chicago, Illinois

0.43%

None of these numbers are shocking. The manufacturing sector in the United States has been shrinking – for the most part – since 1980 and wages in the Rockford area haven’t been keeping pace with the nation since the early 1990s. These numbers are just another way to illustrate more needs to be done to diversify our economy.

 

 


  • 1

Rockford makes a ‘beautiful’ list

Creators of lists and rankings typically haven’t been too kind to Rockford the past couple of decades. This week, the travel site Expedia included Rockford in a list that city marketers should trumpet all over Social Media.

Author Chloe Mulliner picked Rockford as its Illinois representative on a list of the “Most Beautiful Towns in All 50 States.”

Mulliner’s one-paragraph description of Rockford:

“Rockford is certainly a catch. Whether you’re picking honey crisp apples at Curran’s Orchard or doting on the intricate Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens, you’re in for a treat when you explore this Midwest city. But if tut, tut, it looks like rain, don’t worry, it won’t put a damper on your sightseeing; Rockford Rain Art has a genius installation, in which artwork magically appears on wet sidewalks in certain parts of town!”

So who are we lumped in with this time – in a good way? I’ll save you the time:

Alabama – Gulf Shores
Alaska – Valdez
Arizona – Fountain Hills
Arkansas – Hot Springs
California – Dunsmuir
Colorado – Grand Lake
Connecticut – Kent
Delaware – Odessa
Florida – Apalachicola
Georgia – Pine Mountain
Hawaii – Hana, Maui
Idaho – Sandpoint
Indiana – Bloomington
Iowa – Decorah
Kansas – Cottonwood Falls
Kentucky – Pikeville
Louisiana – St. Francisville
Maine – Boothbay Harbor
Maryland – St. Michaels
Massachussetts – Westford
Michigan – Munising
Minnesota – Winona
Mississippi – Port Gibson
Missouri – Weston
Montana – Kalispell
Nebraska – Valentine
Nevada – Incline Village
New Hampshire – Harrisville
New Jersey – Spring Lake
New Mexico – Abiquiu
New York – Windham
North Carolina – Southport
North Dakota – Valley City
Ohio – Granville
Oklahoma – Guthrie
Oregon – McMinnville
Pennsylvania – Bethlehem
Rhode Island – Westerly
South Carolina – Bluffton
South Dakota – Hill City
Tennessee – Townsend
Texas – Vanderpool
Utah – Garden City
Vermont – Stowe
Virginia – Crozet
Washington – Coupeville
West Virginia – Summersville
Wisconsin – Algoma
Wyoming – Buffalo


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Lack of community pride drags down Rockford’s ‘well-being’

ROCKFORD – The Rockford area ranked 178th out of 189 metro areas studied for “well-being,” according to surveys conducted over 2015 and 2016 by Gallup, mostly because many residents here still don’t like where they live.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index surveyed at least 1,000 people a day for more than 700 days over those two years simply on how they felt about things. They broke the rankings down by:

  • Purpose – liking what you do and being motivated to achieve goals.
  • Social – having supportive relationships and love in your life.
  • Financial – managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
  • Physical – having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.
  • Community – Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community.

In three of the five categories, residents surveyed in Boone and Winnebago counties were positively bullish about their lives.

  • Rockford ranked 89th in financial well-being, ahead of such places as Chicago and Indianapolis.
  • Rockford ranked 67th in purpose, in front of Peoria, Illinois, and Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • Rockford ranked 42nd in social well-being, beating out Honolulu, Boulder, Colo., and St. Louis, among others.

With those scores, how could Rockford be ranked barely above cities such as Flint, Michigan, with its public water crisis and Fort Smith, Arkansas, a struggling manufacturing area with a per capita personal income of $34,065 – more than $5,000 less than Rockford?

Well, in terms of physical well-being, having the energy to get things done daily, Rockford metro respondents graded the area 174th out of 189. And in community, having pride in where we live, Rockford ranked 187th. Only residents in the Binghamton, New York, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, liked where they live less than Rockford.

Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index – TOP 10

Rank

Area

Overall

Purpose

Social

Financial

Physical

Community

1.

Naples, Fla.

66.3

3

3

11

3

1

2.

Barnstable Town, Mass.

66.2

12

2

5

1

5

3.

Santa Cruz, Calif.

65.9

6

20

7

4

3

4.

Honolulu, Hawaii

65.4

21

53

3

7

6

5.

Charlottesville, Va.

65.3

13

5

23

6

13

6.

Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.

65.2

14

4

1

14

12

7.

San Luis Obispo, Calif.

65.2

25

89

25

5

2

8.

Lynchburg, Va.

64.9

16

8

14

25

8

9.

Hilton Head Island, S.C.

64.9

7

1

26

20

27

10.

Boulder, Colo.

64.7

118

97

56

2

7

Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index – ILLINOIS METRO AREAS

Rank

Area

Overall

Purpose

Social

Financial

Physical

Community

84.

Peoria

61.9

77

149

15

99

134

93.

Chicago

61.7

112

121

92

52

149

148.

Quad Cities, Ill.-Iowa

60.9

97

156

61

151

138

178.

Rockford

59.9

67

42

89

174

187

Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index – BOTTOM 10

Rank

Area

Overall

Purpose

Social

Financial

Physical

Community

180.

Montgomery, Ala.

59.8

180

147

185

148

181

181.

Erie, Penn.

59.7

176

172

131

173

173

182.

Beaumont, Texas

59.5

127

183

181

183

153

183.

Chico, Calif.

59.5

167

170

177

185

155

184.

Flint, Mich.

59.4

163

127

145

171

185

185.

Canton, Ohio

59.4

187

187

122

166

169

186.

Topeka, Kansas

59.3

133

165

85

183

177

187.

Huntington, W.Va.

58.7

151

188

178

187

179

188.

Morgantown, N.C.

58.6

178

180

188

188

108

189.

Fort Smith, Ark.

57.5

188

189

189

189

175

 

 


  • 0

Rockford-area communities rank poorly in money management

Money management is a classic chicken-or-the egg question.

Are people who earn higher salaries inherently better with handling money versus those living in areas where incomes haven’t kept up? Or are families living in low-income areas forced to make tougher decisions because of lack of available resources?

WalletHub.com released its 2017 ranking of Best & Worst Cities at Money Management and Rockford, Illinois, ranked in the bottom 41 percentile out of 2,534. WalletHub.com asked professors from the universities of California-Irvine, Michigan, West Florida, California-Santa Barbara, New York, Illinois and Wisconsin to rank cities on 10 key financial metrics.

The data comes from TransUnion from 2016 and Renwood RealtyTrac and the rankings are based on the following indicators:

  • Credit card debt-to-income ratio
  • Mortgage debt-to-income ratio
  • Car loan debt-to-income ratio
  • Student loan debt-to-income ratio
  • Median credit score
  • Average number of late payments
  • Share of adults who are delinquent on their debts
  • Share of adults with a bankruptcy filing in the past 12 months
  • Foreclosure rate

A closer look at the rankings showed that high-income areas scored well, while low-income areas scored poorly. Of course, high-income areas also tend to have a more highly-educated workforce, so making distinctions based on income and education are difficult. What is clear is that Rockford still has a long way to go in terms of earning power and handling those earnings better.

Here are the various rankings important to the Transform Rockford area.

WalletHub.com best cities at money management

Rank

City

Median
credit score

Credit card
debt-to-income
ratio

Mortgage
debt-to-income
ratio

Student loan
debt-to-income
ratio

Car loan
debt-to-income
ratio

Average
No. of late payments

1.

Cupertino, Calif.

766

2.30%

436.28%

12.52%

17.52%

0.52

2.

Los Altos, Calif.

776

3.94%

566.51%

15.83%

22.04%

0.43

3.

Lexington, Mass.

776

3.99%

449.10%

16.48%

25.14%

0.46

4.

Scarsdale, N.Y.

764

4.68%

394.68%

11.87%

20.58%

0.82

5.

Palo Alto, Calif.

762

4.14%

667.73%

14.70%

31.15%

0.57

6.

Saratoga, Calif.

771

3.38%

591.18%

15.10%

19.29%

0.29

7.

Chevy Chase, Md.

757

4.95%

476.55%

16.27%

28.86%

0.58

8.

Foster City, Calif.

758

3.58%

515.26%

17.08%

25.96%

0.94

9.

Sunnyvale, Calif.

745

3.37%

592.74%

21.63%

27.13%

1.05

10.

McLean, Va.

757

4.51%

450.78%

16.40%

23.59%

0.76

Top cities in states surrounding Illinois

Rank

City

Median
credit score

Credit card
debt-to-income
ratio

Mortgage
debt-to-income
ratio

Student loan
debt-to-income
ratio

Car loan
debt-to-income
ratio

Average
No. of late payments

53.

New Berlin, Wis.

759

5.58%

342.89%

28.79%

40.30%

1.13

71.

Chesterfield, Mo.

762

6.22%

445.19%

30.13%

47.94%

1.02

98.

Carmel, Ind.

760

6.59%

384.81%

25.28%

38.97%

1.20

150.

Bettendorf, Iowa

738

6.17%

305.63%

35.63%

39.53%

1.65

711.

Owensboro, Ky.

668

7.48%

339.53%

51.38%

56.82%

2.3

Top five cities in Illinois

Rank

City

Median
credit score

Credit card
debt-to-income
ratio

Mortgage
debt-to-income
ratio

Student loan
debt-to-income
ratio

Car loan
debt-to-income
ratio

Average
No. of late payments

57.

Northbrook

762

5.63%

467.73%

22.53%

42.18%

0.92

58.

Buffalo Grove

747

5.49%

342.85%

25.88%

41.68%

1.41

70.

Wilmette

767

6.95%

530.04%

22.77%

25.59%

0.86

109.

Deerfield

756

7.91%

491.02%

24.41%

42.59%

0.81

110.

Arlington Heights

749

5.54%

422.11%

29.23%

43.93%

1.22

Rockford-area cities

Rank

City

Median
credit score

Credit card
debt-to-income
ratio

Mortgage
debt-to-income
ratio

Student loan
debt-to-income
ratio

Car loan
debt-to-income
ratio

Average
No. of late payments

768.

Freeport

686

8.34%

269.50%

59.03%

75.06%

2.30

1285.

Belvidere

673

7.85%

394.31%

49.72%

57.26%

2.06

1407.

Loves Park

673

6.76%

262.97%

45.05%

71.49%

2.67

1483.

Rockford

647

7.58%

300.19%

50.37%

74.53%

2.53

2133.

Machesney Park

666

7.17%

269.34%

47.82%

54.46%

3.31

When you look at the data, the only criteria that somewhat helps Rockford-area communities is our relatively low cost of housing. Otherwise, local families are saddling themselves with too much credit card, student loan and car loan debt.

To shore this up a bit, I’ve averaged out the scores from the top 10 overall cities, top in Illinois and then the five local communities big enough to be ranked.

Averages

Area

Credit Score

Credit Card
Debt

Mortgage
Debt

Student Loan
Debt

Car Loan
Debt

Avg. Late
Payments

Top 10 cities

763

3.88%

514.08%

15.79%

24.13%

0.64

Best cities surrounding Illinois

737

6.41%

363.61%

34.24%

44.71%

1.46

Top 5 Illinois cities

756

6.30%

450.75%

24.96%

39.19%

1.04

Rockford-area cities

669

7.54%

299.26%

50.40%

66.56%

2.57

The amount of student loan debt-to-income and car loan debt-to-income is staggering. Undoubtedly, a college education remains the most effective way to boost a person’s future earnings. College costs though have been outpacing inflation for decades and many more middle- and low-income families have had to use loans to pay for that education.

Heavy student loan debt though costs graduates years of savings power. According to the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances, $53,000 in education debt leads to a wealth loss of nearly $208,000.

Car loan debt, next to credit card debt, is perhaps the most unnecessary. The average car loan now lasts 5 ½ years, meaning payments will last well into the years where maintenance and repair costs start to accumulate. Plus, cars lose significant amounts of value the minute they leave the dealership, causing most borrowers to be “upside down,” owing more than what they can sell their car or truck for, for the majority of the loan.

Undoubtedly, the relatively lower level of income of our area affects these rankings. If Transform Rockford is successful and a city showing increased educational achievement and falling crime is able to attract and grow upper-income jobs by 2025 it will automatically improve the ratios. Afterall, the amount someone pays for a Ford F-150 in Cupertino, California, isn’t much different from Rockford. The difference is how much is the buyer able to pay up front.

Still, debt is mostly a controllable cost. If someone has $2,000 saved for a car and decides rather than buying what that amount affords to buy a $20,000 car, well, that means essentially the first week of every month you are working to pay off that vehicle. It’s a matter of priorities and what the data above shows is that too many people prioritize instant spending over long-term financial independence.

 

 


  • 0

Choosing civility

On Thursday, March 2, Rev. Jeffrey Brown is leading a community conversation on civility for Transform Rockford at Crusader Community Health.

How do we as a community deal with each other, with all our differences, in a civil manner in the social media era?

It’s the kind of discussion that Brian Leaf would have loved. Really, Brian loved all kind of conversation. He was the most civil person I ever met.

Brian was a Register Star business writer, off and on, for more than 15 years. I spent 17 years there, 12 writing in business. I did some good work, but I always admitted that if you did any kind of research on a business issue or company, eventually you would find that Brian did the definitive piece on the subject.

In Brian’s final couple of years at the Register Star, he served as union chief, fighting the good fight to keep real journalism alive in the Internet era. Eventually, a better opportunity came along and he was working as public information officer for a school district in Beloit, Wisconsin.

On February 22, he was doing one of several things he loved, heading up his early morning spin class at the YMCA of Rock River Valley. He’d handpicked all the music. I’m sure he was needling the students who liked to be needled and pushing the ones who needed to be pushed. Then his heart suddenly just gave out. He was dead instantly. He was just 57.

I was called a couple of hours later. I sat next to Brian for the last five years of my time at the Register Star. It is impossible for me to accurately describe how much fun he was to be around. I’ve always taught my two daughters that there are really two types of people in the world – ones who add energy to the room when they walk in and ones who suck the life out of the room. Brian always added energy to every occasion.

Brian loved to ask questions and he listened so he could absorb the story. The best reporters are storytellers and he could tell some good ones.

Personally, I feel like I lost one of my best friends. I am now the communications manager for Thinker Ventures, which is an excellent company on its way up. In between the Register Star and Thinker though, there were dark days. I spent several of those with Brian at his spin classes, usually laughing, sometimes arguing. Brian refused to add Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” to his playlist. I’d argue that it’s called The Climb and we’re cycling, it’s a natural. He refused to lower his standards. He even did a whole spin class of songs for me with the word Climb in the title without including Cyrus. No matter what the morning subject of conversation was though, I always left thinking that he believed more in me than I do in myself.

On the day he died, if there was solace, it was in reading the Facebook feed of many of the people he touched over the years. I realized I was just one of hundreds of Brian’s best friends. He had that unique ability to make you feel like you were one of the most important people in his life.

Brian’s memorial service was Sunday and more than 500 filled his Episcopalian church. His wife, Mary, and his fantastic kids, Sally and Roy, are less than a week into learning how to live life without him. The Register Star’s Isaac Guerrero wrote a touching feature obit that was far too short because there really is never enough space to properly say goodbye to someone.

Reality Check is meant to be a way to trace the progress of Rockford as the various programs designed to help the area improve are rolled out. Civility is an interesting discussion because if I could wave a magic wand and magically conjure up one thing it would be to infuse a little of Brian’s spirit into all of us.

When we sat next to each other, we had a running joking competition over who knew more people. I would admit that downtown Rockford was Brian’s domain. He’d listened to music or bought everyone a beer in about a 12-block radius. I’d tell him he needed to get out to the burbs, Loves and Machesney Park, my territory, then we’d be even. He’d smile and say he’s good. He’s winning. Truth be told, if the competition was who was liked by more then he won hands down. The sheer number of people from all walks of life who filled that church Sunday were a testament to his ability to connect with anyone. I never met a single person with an unkind word to say about him. He embodied the best of Rockford. If this city ever lives up to his example, it’ll be the place to live in the entire world.

Rest in peace Brian.


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College enrollment rising faster than readiness

In 2014, the Illinois State Board of began tracking and publishing in its yearly scorecards the percentage of students who enrolled at a college within 16 months of graduation as well as the percentage of students who were ready for college coursework.

The metric they used for being ready for college was the percentage of students who scored 21 or higher on the ACT.

A look at this year’s school report cards, which were released in November, showed that the percentage of students entering college is rising at a greater rate than their college readiness.

College enrollment within 16 months of graduation

High School

2013-2014

2015-2016

Hononegah

79%

81%

Durand

74%

79%

Winnebago

70%

75%

Pecatonica

71%

71%

South Beloit

50%

61%

Harlem

65%

60%

Guilford

53%

59%

Rockford East

50%

55%

Auburn

53%

53%

Jefferson

46%

52%

Ready for college coursework

High School

2013-2014

2015-2016

Hononegah

67%

67%

Durand

60%

49%

Winnebago

59%

41%

Pecatonica

48%

52%

South Beloit

30%

30%

Harlem

41%

44%

Guilford

33%

34%

Rockford East

31%

27%

Auburn

32%

41%

Jefferson

18%

19%

Three high schools saw its percentage of students enrolling rise while the percentage of students ready for college declined – Durand, Winnebago and Rockford East.

The percentage of students enrolling in college increased at two schools while the percentage ready for college remained unchanged – South Beloit and Hononegah.

Auburn’s percentage of students enrolling in college was the same in 2015-2016 as it was in 2013-2014, but the percentage of students ready for college jumped from 32 percent to 41 percent.

Harlem’s percentage of students enrolling in college declined – it was the only Winnebago County high school to have this happen – while its students ready for college increased.


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Red-hot housing market finished 2016 strong

After years of disturbingly drastic declines in home prices, the Winnebago County housing market had its 10th straight quarter of year-over-year price gains in October, November and December.

And the percentage prices rose in 2016 was the best in decades.

According to Illinois Association of Realtors data, 952 homes sold in Winnebago County in the final quarter of 2016 at a median price of $104,500. That was 22.9 percent higher than the median price of $85,000 in the fourth quarter of 2015.

The final three months of 2016 marked the third straight quarter that median prices in Winnebago County were above $100,000. It hadn’t topped $100,000 since the fourth quarter of 2010 and in the first quarter of 2014 had fallen as low as $65,000.

For the year, in Winnebago County prices were up 21.6 percent in the first quarter, 18.1 percent in the second and 12.1 percent in the third.

The number of sales continues to climb as well. In 2016, 4,018 homes sold in Winnebago County. It was the first time recorded sales topped 4,000 since 2008.

Of course, the real estate market remains a long ways off from its pre-Great Recession peaks of a median price of $129,700 in the fourth quarter of 2006 and 7,032 home sales for all of 2006. But for the first time in a while, you can start to believe that eventually home prices will make a full recovery.


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Planning out 2017? Look to Trip Advisor

Whenever I’m in a new city, if I’m going to stop to eat, I look on Trip Advisor to see top ranked restaurants.

The popular travel site also does a ranking of “Things To Do.” With spring around the corner, many of us are starting to dream of warmer days and fun things to do. Here are the top “Things to Do” in Rockford, according to Trip Advisor’s data.

  1. Anderson Japanese Gardens
  2. Discovery Center Museum
  3. Nicholas Conservatory
  4. Coronado Performing Arts Center
  5. Burpee Museum of Natural History
  6. Midway Village & Museum Center
  7. Sinnissippi Park
  8. Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden
  9. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laurent House
  10. Rockford City Market
  11. Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens
  12. BMO Harris Bank Center
  13. CherryVale Mall
  14. Camp Grant Museum
  15. Skateland

If food is your thing, here are the top reviewed restaurants on Trip Advisor:

  1. Lino’s
  2. Stockholm Inn
  3. Thunder Bay Grille
  4. Tavern on Clark
  5. GreenFire Restaurant Bar & Bakery
  6. Social Urban Bar and Restaurant
  7. Machine Shed
  8. Franchesco’s
  9. Five Forks Market
  10. Capri
  11. Texas Roadhouse
  12. Woodfire Brick Oven Pizza
  13. Marc’s Fusion Cafe
  14. Giordano’s Famous Stuffed Pizza
  15. The Stone Eagle Tavern

Here are the top Trip Advisor things to do and restaurants in other Winnebago County cities:

Cherry Valley
1. Thing to Do: Magic Waters
1. Restaurant: Eggsclusive Cafe 2

Loves Park
1. Thing to Do: Rock Cut State Park
1. Restaurant: Nunzio’s Restuarant

Machesney Park
1. Thing to Do: AMC Showplace Machesney Park 14
1. Restaurant: Pig Minds

Pecatonica
1. Thing to Do: (Nothing ranked)
1. Restaurant: The Railway

Rockton
1. Thing to Do: Pokie’s Cafe & Video Gaming
1. Restaurant: Dairyhaus

Roscoe
1. Thing to Do: Historic Auto Museum
1. Restaurant: Jessica’s

South Beloit
1. Thing to Do: DC Estate Winery
1. Restaurant: Anna Maria’s Italian Restaurant

Winnebago
1. Thing to Do: Edwards Apple Orchard West
1. Restaurant: Anna’s Pizza & Pasta


Reality Check

Reality Check is a new section written and managed by Alex Gary, communications manager for Thinker Ventures. Alex specializes in digging up truthful, relevant and raw statistics. - visit page