City of Rochelle hosts Industry Appreciation Day event

On Tuesday, the City of Rochelle hosted Industry Appreciation Day event at The REC Center that included a luncheon, speeches by U.S. Congressman Darin LaHood and State Rep. Tom Demmer and presentations by industry partners and city officials.

‘You folks are the backbone of our community’

ROCHELLE — On Tuesday, the City of Rochelle hosted Industry Appreciation Day event at The REC Center that included a luncheon, speeches by U.S. Congressman Darin LaHood and State Rep. Tom Demmer and presentations by industry partners and city officials.

The Rochelle City Council recently proclaimed Sept. 6 as Industry Appreciation Day in Rochelle, and Mayor John Bearrows called being able to celebrate Rochelle’s industry members “an honor and a privilege.” The event will likely be held annually going forward.

“We're happy to have our industries be a part of our team at the City of Rochelle,” Bearrows said. “We're very much concerned about your future. Because your future affects our future and vice versa. We're very thankful for you and that's what brought about today. You folks are the backbone of our community.”

Demmer said that infrastructure and partnerships at the local, state and federal level are what have built a “strong foundation” on which the industry of Rochelle has been able to thrive.

“There are few places in the state and country that recognize the importance of those infrastructure investments and partnerships,” Demmer said. ”In Rochelle, it's part of the identity of the city. I want to recognize all of the folks who have made investments in their industries in Rochelle and in the community. That's what helps make a community thrive.”

City Economic Development Director Jason Anderson said that between state and federal funding for infrastructure, Rochelle has received around $60 million in the 18 years he’s been with the city, and he’s proud of that.

LaHood now represents Rochelle in congress after recent redistricting. He spent Tuesday morning meeting with Bearrows and City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh about the city’s priorities. 

“What you have going on here in Rochelle is different from a lot of places across the state,” LaHood said. “It's a testament to many of you in the room here and I can see the vibrancy you have in your community as it relates to economic development and infrastructure. The projects you have on the horizon and what you're doing here are really tremendous. It's a success story in the state. I want to thank the business leaders, job creators and the folks that work in civic government, education and at nonprofits.”

Presentations were made by Kishwaukee College President Laurie Borowicz, Northern Illinois University Executive Director for Strategic Advancement Luke Sebby, CPower Energy Management Account Executive Kellen Bollettino, City of Rochelle GIS Coordinator Casey Heuer and City Industrial Development Manager Peggy Friday.

Borowicz discussed how Kish has dealt with declining enrollment over the years and said it's recently seen an increase. She said the college prides itself on hands-on experience for students, is happy to provide customized training to local industries and that Kish and Rochelle Township High School are committed to improving the area's workforce.

Sebby discussed the movement on NIU's Innovation Campus project and said it will be a "hub for new ideas and creativity" that will lead to economic development for the region. The project will span several decades. Ground will be broken next spring on the NIU Center for Community Sustainability.

Sebby also said that NIU along with area communities like Rochelle are pursuing a large National Science Foundation grant with potential to develop technology-driven innovation ecosystems to improve national competitiveness locally.

Bollettino's organization works with Rochelle Municipal Utilities customers to reduce electrical load on the grid through incentives. CPower's demand response program sends checks to Rochelle businesses for reducing their power use at certain times.

"We've paid roughly $300,000 back to the industry partners that are participating in our program," Bollettino said. "There's about 20 sites that are currently participating and plenty of room for more. Those checks go out from CPower four times throughout the year."

Heuer talked about the geographic information system work that the city does to help its industries. Work is ongoing on a city website to further promote industrial opportunities in Rochelle along with the industry it already has.

Rochelle industry members will be able to use the interactive website to find logistics options and things like shipping times to areas of the country. Potential job applicants will also be able to find specific information about openings on the site.

The final presentation of the event was made by Friday. Her position focuses on business retention within the city. Last year, the city conducted a labor study and met with its businesses. Work has been ongoing since and has included a city-managed job board. Friday said the city also plans to create an industry task force to tackle challenges to issues such as workforce, the supply chain and technology.

"We have industry stakeholders, community leaders and city staff who are ready to get involved and engage with our industries," Friday said. "It's really exciting and I encourage you to take advantage of it. We are here to serve you. I just want to thank you for your contribution to the community and everything that you do for our citizens."