By: Emily Klonicki, Executive Director - Alignment Rockford & Caitlin Pusateri, President - Rockford Chamber of Commerce
These tough COVID years have highlighted how the lack of child care availability and affordability impact hiring, retention, and productivity. Businesses can’t thrive without productive employees, and parents can’t maintain or succeed in their jobs without a robust early childhood system to care for their children while they are at work.
This relates directly to what we at the Rockford Chamber of Commerce continually hear from our members, that there is one specific issue keeping them up at night: workforce. Whether it be retaining their current talent or attracting new, skilled talent, workforce remains a top concern for the business community. The problem is both immediate – a need for workers NOW – as well as long-term – the need for workers to fill gaps left by retiring Baby Boomers or to grow the business. While the workforce issue is multi-faceted, one driving culprit is the lack of access to affordable, reliable child care, forcing professionals into stressful, missed days of work or, even worse, an undesired exit from the workforce entirely.
Viewed on a macro scale, the economic implications of the child care crisis are staggering. Infant-toddler child care challenges drain an estimated $4.9 billion from Illinois’ economy every year, according to a new report from ReadyNation. Nationally, the price tag of infant-toddler child care insufficiencies total $122 billion. These numbers are more than double what they were in 2018 and reflect only the limitations of care for children younger than age 3.
But child care is more than just a solution for today’s workforce. It is also important to invest in high-quality early childhood education to develop the workforce of tomorrow. A highly skilled workforce of the future begins to acquire needed skills in early childhood. Both technical (or academic) skills and soft (or executive-functioning) skills that employers seek - like persistence, cooperation, and interpersonal skills - have their roots in early childhood, when high-quality programming can best set children up for success in school, careers and life.
Zeroing-in on these issues, Alignment Rockford serves as the convener of the early childhood coalition, Ready to Learn in Rockford. In our work with families, service providers, and other organizations in the Rockford Area, we encounter ongoing need for high-quality child care options as well as other support for parents and primary caregivers of children under the age of 5. These supports may come in the form of child care assistance subsidies from the state or from employer benefits like increased paid leave for working parents, flexible scheduling, or remote work options. The investment in care and education of young children and in the well-being of their families has great community return, as children who enter kindergarten ready to learn are much more likely to succeed academically and have greater employment opportunities, higher earning power, and better lifelong outcomes. The early childhood crisis facing our community is hardly unique to Rockford; however, we as a community can choose to take action and change the course of our future by addressing these needs in a meaningful and coordinated way.
As the President of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce and the Executive Director of Alignment Rockford, we see the needs of the youngest members of our community, the need to support parents of young children, and the ways in which business leaders can be involved. This is why we are members of ReadyNation network of business executives and why we encourage Rockford employers to join us in supporting solutions to the child care crisis. The ongoing work at the local level is vital, but we must also call on policymakers at the state and federal levels to invest in early care and education. Governor Pritzker’s proposal to invest in the early childhood system gives us hope that the state is moving in the right direction. Helping to strengthen our workforce and economy — for today and tomorrow, alike — is truly everyone’s job.
This story was published in the RRStar on March 17, 2023. Find it here.
Rockford landmarks – reclaiming history
By Andrew Wright, Rockford Chamber of Commerce
Landmarks tell the story of a city. The skyscrapers along the lakefront in Chicago, the industrial core of Milwaukee, the capitol building on the isthmus in Madison—these landmarks represent the identity of their cities and are a great source of pride for the people who live and work in them.
The Rockford Chamber of Commerce has the privilege to work in downtown Rockford in a building named Stewart Square, on the corner of State Street and Main Street. Now the home of professional services offices, DLaJe’ Beauty flower shop, Ripe Life Juice Company, a tasty taco restaurant and a welcoming barber shop, Stewart Square once housed retail stores like D. J. Stewart Dry Goods and JCPenney®.
February 13, 2023
ROCKFORD CHAMBER ENDORSES CANDIDATES FOR RPS 205 SCHOOL BOARD
Pearson, Bennett, and Haley receive endorsements from business community
Rockford, IL (February 13, 2023) - After hearing presentations and reviewing completed questionnaires from contested RPS 205 School Board candidates, the Rockford Chamber of Commerce voted to endorse the following candidates: Denise Pearson (Sub Dist. A), Nicole Bennett (Sub Dist. D), and Kimberly Haley (Sub Dist. F). The Rockford Chamber supports candidates that reflect our Chamber’s fervently held belief that a viable, healthy community requires a healthy and vibrant business community. The largest educating body in our community, Rockford Public Schools, District 205, is an important part of the equation for a healthy and vibrant business community as they educate today’s youth and tomorrow’s workforce.
Jean Crosby, Chair of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors commented, “With over 27,000 students and 4,000 employees, the Rockford Public School District impacts our community on a multitude of levels. A community with a robust and thriving school system attracts talent, increases home values, and drives economic development with a guarantee for future workforce. The Rockford Chamber is committed to working those elected to the Rockford School Board to ensure a connection to and support from the business community. The candidates endorsed by the Rockford Chamber are candidates that will help to strengthen that bond, hold the District accountable, and keep them moving forward in its mission to be a First Choice for ALL Families.”
The Rockford Chamber of Commerce has an active Government Affairs Council focused on advocating for a strong and healthy business environment by influencing legislative, economic and social policy. All members of the Rockford Chamber are welcome to join the council to represent the business community’s interest to encourage business growth, promote a strong local economy and foster a favorable business climate in the Rockford region.
About the Rockford Chamber of Commerce
The Rockford Chamber of Commerce is the region’s leading advocate for business growth. The Rockford Chamber works to benefit our community by leading in the promotion of economic growth, advocating for the interests of businesses, and providing service and educational opportunities that help our 1,000 members, representing 60,000+ employees, grow (rockfordchamber.com). The Rockford Chamber of Commerce is a partner in the Greater Rockford Growth Partnership.
According to a recent release made by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), significant progress has been made in the state of Illinois to increase its number of jobs and decrease its unemployment numbers. Rockford, listed as one of the 14 major metropolitan areas, saw significant unemployment decline, and touts the highest unemployment decrease in the state of Illinois from 7.7% (2021) to 5.9% (2022) for a total decrease of -1.8%.
IDES reports the last time this rate was equal to or lower was in 2019 when it was 4.8 percent. Total employment (non-farming jobs) increased by +6,100 jobs over the last year in Winnebago County. Frank Rotello, CEO, Alpha Controls & Services LLC and Past Board Chair stated, “Trends are moving in the right direction. Our goal is to get back to 2018 peak employment levels which were 13,000 higher from where we are today.”
The Workforce Connection, in collaboration with multiple community partners, has been diligently working to assist employers and employees alike to solve the workforce needs of the region. “We are proud that our community is leading the state of Illinois in decreasing our unemployment rates year to year. The Workforce Connection will remain focused on our mission and vision of providing a workforce that meets the needs of business and industry now and into the future.” explained Gina Caronna, Executive Director, The Workforce Connection.
About The Workforce Connection
The Workforce Connection (TWC) Board is one of 22 local workforce boards established by the Governor of the State of Illinois pursuant to the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Utilizing Federal, State, and donated funds, TWC provides a system for individuals to get employed and works with employers to find skilled workers and access other services, including education and training for their current workforce in Boone, Stephenson, and Winnebago Counties. TWC is committed to providing a workforce that meets the needs of the business community.
Einar Forsman, CEO of the Greater Rockford Growth Partnership, of which the Chamber is a partner, sits on The Workforce Connection board. We are proud to be involved in this work.
By Andrew Wright
Originally published in the November 2022 issue of The Voice.
When the seasons change and the holiday decorations come out, it's easy to see that retail businesses have been working all year behind the scenes to prepare for the influx of shoppers.
But the past two years have been anything but predictable. Many businesses have weathered uncertain supply chains as they attempt to restock their stores to match pre-pandemic demands. However, rising interest rates, higher costs for utilities and gas, and other economic factors could make shoppers more cautious this holiday season.
Here’s how four Rockford business are building a better customer experience.
Benson Stone Company
Last year was a record year for Benson Stone Company, a brick, stone and masonry supplier and retailer of quality home furnishings.
“There was a huge amount of pentup demand, as everyone was sitting at home thinking on ways to improve their space,” said Andrew Benson, president of Benson Stone Company. “We’ve grown our staff since pre-pandemic. And we’re seeing supply chains getting better; costs and freight charges coming down.”
According to Benson, 2022 has been a good year as well. “We’re well over 2019 and 2018, but I think the home improvement sector is lightening up a bit. However, we’re seeing gift items and café traffic improve [as the holidays near].”
Creating an inviting customer experience is evident at Benson Stone’s showroom in the restored the historic Rockford
Standard Furniture factory in midtown—from the fresh-baked scents of the Hearth Rock Café to the giant stone fireplace that’s always lit during business hours.
But it’s not all retail glitz. They offer quality products for nearly any budget along with a low price guarantee. Other local retailers also are stepping up to improve the customer experience.
Guler Appliance has been open for more than 86 years at 227 Seventh Street in Rockford. But for the last two years, they’ve been focused on their brand-new location at 4435 E. State Street, which opened in April of this year.
Like Benson Stone, the managers at Guler Appliance saw a huge spike in orders at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, and that created a demand their old location couldn’t handle.
“The warehouse space was maxed out, and we had spread out across three locations to handle deliveries. It was cumbersome, logistically,” explained Dale Johnson, president of Guler Appliance. “The amount of business we were seeing meant we were doing well enough to consolidate to one building, and that we could handle bigger showroom space.”
In 2020, Johnson and Andy Guler, vice president of Guler Appliance, visited the State Street location and fell in love.
“This building reflects what we want our message to be – clean, elegant, simple and refined,” Guler said.
The new space is open, with neutralcolored walls and high-end cabinets and countertops that keep the focus on the selection of brilliant white, onyx black, and stainless steel refrigerators, stoves and other appliances.
“We want our customers to know that we’re taking this seriously for them. We’re here to take their needs seriously and we want our messaging to reflect that,” Guler said.
Infinite Soul Vibrations
The customer experience matters to owners of smaller businesses as well.
When she opened Infinite Soul Vibrations in 2018, Tamika Brown wanted to create a healing space for her customers. Brown is a Reiki practitioner, energy healer and certified medical empath. At her shop on State Street, she’s created a haven of warm colors and positive messages.
Works from local and regional artists like Pinklomein, Shaniqwa Porter, Kayla Janae and Yaz look down on shelves of oils, books and holistic healing goods.
For Brown, Infinite Soul Vibrations is more than a shop, it’s an extension of her own health journey. “The most healing and restorative part of what I do is having the honor and privilege to help people heal and become more conscious beings.”
Brown discovered this profession through her own health struggles.
“There was a tumor on the front of my brain, and I suffered a heart attack shortly after that. Surgery was too high risk, and the medication I took for my tumor caused adverse reactions, so I needed to find other means [of healing],” she said. “I started using acupuncture and I studied natural healing. Soon I added acupressure to other healing techniques.”
Now, when someone new walks into her shop, Brown can speak from personal experience about the healing benefits of her products and services.
Whether it’s a transient passer-by who wants someone to listen to their problems or a customer with an ache in their shoulder, Brown starts by listening intently as the first step in the healing process.
“I believe nothing is a coincidence. Sometimes people don’t know what brought them in, just that something doesn’t feel right,” Brown said. “I love people – that’s the biggest part of this.”
Rockford Art Deli
When Rockford Art Deli opened their retail shop in 2011, Jarrod Hennis had a vision—to create a cool community that people wanted to come to, move to and talk about.
“I’m trying to create a better community,” he said. “I’m using the Rockford Art Deli voice that the community helped to build to help Rockford grow.”
Walking into Rockford Art Deli is like walking into a Rockford booster club. Art and clothes all bear signs and symbols of Rockford pride, embracing the area code 815 and sharing the love of the things and places that make Rockford unique. Local artists are featured along the walls and the employees who make the products are front and center of the operation.
In a time when other retail outlets struggle to find staff, Hennis is confident in his team. “People want to work here. We have great benefits, good pay and a positive atmosphere at work.”
Hennis is also seeing growth in his business thanks to partnership with Schnucks that’s helping him expand to other cities. “We’ve got five or six Peoria designs we’re getting Schnucks to carry, and we’re working on Beloit and Janesville as well,” he said. But when it comes to Rockford, Hennis still sees opportunities for bigger things.
“People want to see positivity. We have the infrastructure to do so much stuff,” he said. “I want to see a new resurgence downtown. We have a great city and the structure for it, but we need to change our mindset. We could be a Milwaukee, Madison or whatever we want to be. In the end it’s about the community and attitude.”
Is your team stagnant, or is there a sense of tension in your department? It may not be "just your gut feeling," but rather an indication that your team is in a "flight or fight" mode. Today, we're looking at three distinct emotional states in the workplace, fight, flight, and flow, and the implications when leaders shift out of flow and into flight or fight.
At the September 27, 2022 Rockford Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors meeting, the board voted to adopt a resolution urging local taxing bodies to hold their levies flat, the crux of the resolution is as follows: