ROCKFORD, April 29 — Businesses in the Rockford Region are feeling increasingly more positive about education, community leadership and quality of life, and almost one-third of businesses plan to expand in the next three years.
Those are the two most significant business climate trends identified through the 2014 Voice of the Customer survey. Results of the survey, conducted by the Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC) and sponsored by ComEd, were released today; all reports can be found at www.rockfordil.com/VoiceOfTheCustomer.
About the program
Since 2004, the RAEDC has held confidential interviews with more than 900 companies, which in aggregate employ more than half of our region’s workforce. The Voice of the Customer (VOC) program is a critical tool to understand the plans of businesses and match them with the resources that foster growth and success.
“This program not only gives us great insight into our local business climate and the factors that are driving decisions to expand, but it also gives us in-depth knowledge of the companies themselves — allowing us to better connect them to opportunities that fit their goals for growth,” said Terrance Hall, international trade and business development specialist at the RAEDC.
In 2014, 35 percent of manufacturers and 31 percent of the 75 companies surveyed overall expect to expand in the next three years. Those anticipated expansions represent a potential $293 million in capital investment, 896,000 square feet of new space and 1,876 new jobs.
“The outlook, while lower than in 2012 and 2013, remains strong coming off three years of aggressive growth and historic wins,” Mark Podemski, the RAEDC’s vice president for development, said.
Quality of life
When it comes to quality of life, the Rockford Region is consistently lauded for its attractive low cost of living, proximity to Chicago and Milwaukee, and ideal logistics access for road, rail and air travel.
The survey also identifies opportunities for improvement. While leaders feel better about our quality of life, remaining negativity can still present a barrier to growth.
“Our work is not done in this area,” Hall said. “We need to double down on our efforts. We must continue to support initiatives that boost education, downtown development and safety.”
Workforce: Two companies take the lead
Another opportunity lies in workforce development. Employers overall continue to struggle with the availability of skilled workers. However, a handful of companies are taking the lead in crafting their own workforce solutions, with an emphasis on training, benchmarking and workplace culture.
OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center recently announced a major solution to meet the national health care industry’s need for training 1.2 million nurses in a few short years. The Saint Anthony College of Nursing will occupy two floors of Rock Valley College’s planned new Health Sciences building, expanding enrollment capacity by 15 percent and allowing students to get their bachelor’s degree without leaving Rockford.
“The public reception to this teaming of programs – slated to start in early 2017 – has been very enthusiastic and encouraging,” OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center President Paula Carynski said. “The community understands – like OSF and RVC did when we first began talking about this – that we need be innovative in our approach to providing career opportunities.”
ComEd, a longtime supporter of the VOC program and host of today’s news conference, recognizes the importance of investing in its employees in a rapidly changing industry. The company opened an indoor/outdoor training facility in 2013; more than 2,700 people have taken classes there so far.
“If you think about it, our training center is not only a source of economic growth but a symbol of our pride and commitment in being part of the Rockford community,” said Sheila Owens, vice president of economic and business development for ComEd.
Adding to the relevance and context of the report is comparison of local results against a national benchmark, the North American Data Study (NADS). For example, 64 percent of local companies anticipate increased sales — 8 percentage points higher than the national average in the 2012 NADS.
In summary, 2014 numbers at a glance:
How you can participate
If you would like your company to join in the VOC survey, contact Bea Miller at email@example.com or 815-969-4255.
ABOUT THE RAEDC