Transform Rockford: 10 Reasons Why Young Leaders Are Needed

Why not us?  Why not now?  We feel strongly that everyone – especially young people in our community – needs to be involved with Transform Rockford and make every effort to attend the December 14 Summit at Ellis Arts Academy at 1:00 pm.

This call to action is urgent.  The engagement of people in their 20’s, 30’s, and early 40’s (Gen X & Y) is crucial.  Your action or inaction will be consequential.  And that’s scary when you think about it. And exciting. Even humbling. Young people, regardless of background, need to come together, stay together, and work together alongside baby boomers like never before.  We need to see this through, step by step, to completion. 

Transform Rockford is a movement that:

REJECTS the current state of things. 1,400 people didn’t show-up at the Coronado on November 14 because things are going well.

CHALLENGES us to re-think our community and the role citizens play in shaping it.

DARES to ask the tough question: what does the Rockford Region need to do to become a Top 25 community in the United States by 2025?

Much has been written about Transform Rockford.  Rather than recap the highlights of the Summit on November 14, we want to simply state why young leaders must engage RIGHT NOW.

Here are 10 reasons why people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s should attend the December 14 meeting and learn more about Transform Rockford:

1. Self-interest.  The current state of things is not working; especially for young people.

2. You have something to contribute. “I am not going to sit on my butt as events unfold that determine the course of my life.  I have to take a stand.”  – Cameron, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

3. Baby-boomers need our help.  And, we need their help too!  The synergy of both groups will produce a better result.

4. “The future is not some place to go.  It’s a place to create.” – Bruce Van Horn.

5. Your active involvement sends a message to other young people – they will follow your lead.  Remember: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.”  – John Quincy Adams.

6. Young people ‘get’ Transform Rockford’s Shared Values.  Why?  Because words like inclusion, respect, responsibility, and interconnectedness represent our individual core values.

7. “It is not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.” – Batman Begins, 2005

8. Don’t like something with the Transform Rockford concept?  Intrigued but still a little skeptical?  That’s ok, show-up and speak-up.  Collaboration allows the best ideas to emerge and prevail.

9. We can’t let fear of failure, cleverly disguised as cynicism; keep us in a state of inaction. Abe Lincoln said, “I don’t regret the things I’ve done.  I regret the things I didn’t do when I had the chance.” 

10. We agree with Steve Shannon of WZOK; this is “that moment.”  This will be remembered as ‘that moment’ when we came together, stood firm, and:

  • Made a point about who we really are as a community.
  • Discussed where we are, where we want to go and how we are going to get there.
  • Accepted that our past doesn’t have to be our future.
  • Worked together to build on our strengths and fix what is broken.
  • This is “that moment” for Rockford. However, could this also be ‘your moment’ to get involved?

Please join us December 14 at 1pm at Ellis Arts Academy.


Jolene Smith – President, IGNITE Young Professionals

Frank Haney – Facilitator, Next Rockford





  1. I lived and worked in Rockford for 6 years and moved out of the area recently. Rockford seems like it is in a death spiral. It seems to be in continual decline. I still own a house there that continues to lose value after 7 years of ownership and significant investment in capital improvement. Forbes listed Rockford as the 3rd worst place to own a home behind Detroit and Flint Michigan. You would think this would be a wake up call to local leaders. When I lived there, it was discouraging that more people weren’t concerned with the quality of life and general apathy toward being an aspiring community that was actually attracting new people. I sent Mayor Morrissey an email shortly after I moved out of Rockford about a study that was conducted by leaders in Peoria, Il benchmarking how cities of similar demographics compare to other aspiring communities. A scorecard, if you will, that rank communities in terms of economic performance, people, innovation, business and entreprenuership, and livability. I never received a response from the Mayor. Rockford was near the bottom in almost every category. I applaud the group that formed Transform Rockford because it demonstrates there are some people that will not except a decaying community and who are hopefull that positive change can happen. Last time I checked, District 205 only graduates 47% of their students from high school. That is appalling. This might be a good place to start. If you want young families to live in Rockford, they have to believe their children will have a shot at a successful education. Even if you send your kids to private shcool, do you want them to grow up with other children, beaten down by life, who see no future? No community is perfect but hovering well below average for decades is unacceptable. The current “leaders” in the region are part of the problem. I truly hope you are successfull in your endeavor to lift the region out of its current state. Take your community back before it’s too late! Young people are the key and you need to organize and force change, otherwise, you will be forced to move to other places of opportunity like I did.

  2. The whole ‘Transform Rockford’ thing seems really shady.

    I see a lot of cheerleading and pom-pom waving, but very little in regards to detailed plans for the economic future.

    If I were a betting man – which I am not – I’d suspect a libertarian plot to gut the local tax base and move in charter schools.

    Two questions for the business leaders fronting this organization…

    ONE: Are you making more this year than you did last year?

    TWO: Can your employees who helped you do that say the same?

  3. Frank Haney


    Until TR gains more momentum, I think there will be a healthy dose of skepticism from people. I think this ok. Check-out the Summit on December 14, share your concerns about the group, process, etc.

    If you do, then one of two things will happen:
    1. Your suspicions will be confirmed.
    2. There might be one or two things that you like.

  4. Frank Haney


    Thanks for your response. People speak with their mouth (engage or not engage) or with their feet (stay or leave). If we want to attract and retain both people and businesses, then we need to be willing to have the tough conversations and make the necessary changes to ensure success.