What’s that Smell? Opportunity!

Have you heard about a new economic development opportunity for the Rockford area that will create nearly $2 BILLION in impact over the next couple of decades?  Sounds good, eh.  Did you know this opportunity will provide hundreds of jobs at an average rate of pay nearly 50% higher than the typical job in Rockford?  Pretty interesting.  What if this opportunity would provide over $100 million in revenue to local government for investment in additional economic development?  Sounds smart.  Wouldn’t it be cool if this opportunity were on the cutting edge of green energy with wind power, solar generation, waste heat recovery, gas recovery to electricity, recycling, and composting?  Now we’re talking…

What if this opportunity were a landfill?  Say what?!?

Yes, a landfill.  Sort of like toilet paper; everybody needs to have it.  It’s not glamorous but it is necessary.  And, like toilet paper, it can be a great business opportunity.

Years ago every podunk town had a trash pile.  Trash blew around, waterways were contaminated, air was clouded with smoke and stench; it was a real paradise.  In the 70’s we started cleaning up our act.   Regulations were put in place to make sure that trash handling was done in a way that reduced litter, protected waterways, and reduced emissions.  Like most regulations, compliance was challenging and expensive.  Because of the challenges that compliance presented, many operations closed.  Only the highly sophisticated regional operations survived.

One of those highly sophisticated regional operations is the local Winnebago Landfill. Winnebago Landfill operated by a local company called Rock River Environmental Services (formerly William Charles Waste Companies and sold by WC in February of 2011). RRES currently serves 155,000 residential customers, in 53 municipalities in 18 counties. In addition to waste hauling & recycling,  and environmental remediation,  RRES also operates the Winnebago Landfill which operates under highly complex and specialized activities to protect the environment.  It was one of the first to capture methane gas that landfills naturally produce as trash decomposes. The Winnebago Landfill takes the methane gas and converts it to energy. The energy that is captured currently produces enough electricity to power over 5,000 homes.

Unfortunately, our landfill will run out of capacity in about eight years.  Thus we have a choice: expand a world class operation bringing economic opportunity and development to the Rockford area, or shut down and pay more to have our trash hauled far away costing us more, increasing emissions due to transportation, and moving the economic opportunity out of the area.

Yes, it’s true landfills are not glamorous.  They’re not as cool as an expanding aerospace company or a new educational network.  They’re not as sexy as new model cars with European connections.  They’re not as hip as an expanding arts scene with music, video, and apps.  But, they bring high paying jobs, host fees for development, and green technology.

The percentage of waste that comes from other areas including Chicago is somewhere between 5-8%. .  Some say, “Get that Chicago trash out of our landfill.”  Really?  Maybe we should tell Boeing and Airbus to get their airplane control and power generation systems out of our local companies.  Should we tell Fiat to get their cars out of our plant?  Waste management is a business and should service customer demand that generates revenue and income.

All businesses need products transported to and from their facilities.  The landfill is no exception. There will be trucks hauling into the landfill.  But the expansion plans actually will create an entrance east of the existing entrance thus reducing the number of homes passed.  And, truck stops, especially those close to the landfill, will benefit.

Folks are always opining on what needs to be done to fix Rockford or make downtown more vibrant or increase tourism.  There are a lot of good ideas and all of them require investment.  Some of the good ideas have been funded through host fees from the landfill.  Freedom Field, Burpee Museum, County Extension and 4-H, and the BMO Harris Bank Center along with scores of others all benefit from investment of use fees into these programs.  Continuing these host fees will enable on-going re-investment into our communities.

The Winnebago Landfill expansion project will create a green, sustainable, high-tech EcoPark campus with solar panels and windmills on I-39 at the south entrance to the park.  The expansion will invest millions in construction, create high paying jobs, and generate host fees for on-going re-investment and development of the area.