Live Here, Belong Here

Reframing a 21st Century Community is one of the five pillars of our region’s Transformation Plan.  During the visioning process our community decided to “create compelling and genuine communication for and among all residents resulting in shared community pride and a positive position and reputation for the region” (Communications Impact Statement).  We also desired to have “all residents in the Rockford Region see the community with new eyes. We want them to feel proud of where they live, have confidence in the future, and inspire others to conduct their lives in a way that promotes our region from within” (Living the Brand Impact Statement).

From “Rockford Making a Comeback” and “15 Best Places to Move to Before it Gets Crowded” to “Best in the Midwest” has dominated our headlines by credible sources since last fall.  For many of you, this has been a “finally” moment that you feel others are recognizing the value you see in Rockford.

I applaud the Rockford Area Economic Development Council’s recent work to promote the assets of our region beyond the Rockford area.  Residents and business leaders of other communities are looking at Rockford with new eyes, as a place to invest. The Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau continues to drive the message internally and externally to Rockford as a destination to visit and stay a while.  I also believe the Minding the Gap documentary is equally important to elevate the creative arts that originate here, while at the same time engage in systems change that leads to improving the quality of life and the Rockford experience for all.

However, for some, seeing these positive headlines about Rockford has only fueled disbelief that Rockford is not changing.  For those individuals, the regional story may not align with their personal, family, work, or business story. But I want them to know that I too was not confident in Rockford at one point in my life. It was until I had a conversation with a successful African-American business owner who helped reframe how I saw Rockford and the opportunity I had to engage in changing the direction and destiny of our community.  He helped me to see how I was letting one narrative shape my entire career decision and place to live. While I believed Rockford could be different, I was disengaging in the process that leads to a better narrative.

Emerging Narrative

But I have to say, that narrative is emerging. I see a better narrative evolving that is inclusive of all sectors, faiths, residents, and community members.  One resident that fits that narrative is Rockford native Jessica Gissal and husband Justin Collett. It was the accumulation of positive stories about our region that encouraged them to relocate their family from a condo in downtown Chicago, back to the forest city. Since moving here a year ago, the couple told me that they’ve found themselves enjoying many Rockford amenities and they even told me that they can tell there’s a lot of pride in the town.

And then there’s Rockford Public Library employee Aaron Carlin. He’s lived all over the U.S., most recently residing in the suburbs of Chicago. His job brought him and his entire family to Rockford and although he wasn’t born and raised here, he made the move knowing that Rockford is “turning around.” He loves our city because it offers a great blend of both urban and rural environments, providing his family with plenty of things to do.

It’s these types of stories that our governance, staff and volunteer teams are starting to hear more and more. And while we recognize that not everyone has had these types of experiences, we encourage you to engage in the transformation process so that this becomes the narrative experience by all. I also encourage all of us to ask ourselves “What narrative do we want to shape?”