Rockford Putting Rockford First

September 16, 2002
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ROCKFORD — The most ambitious survey ever undertaken by the City of Rockford got underway last week. The plan is to reach 3,000 households to determine which commercial services should be added to the city’s business district.

The survey is being conducted by Davison Dietsch McCarthy, a local strategic planning, marketing and research firm at 100 Grandville SW, and it could take up to seven weeks to complete. The work began last week with a citywide telephone survey that asked residents where they shop, what commercial services they use locally, how loyal they are to Rockford businesses and which types of goods and services they want added to the city.

Calls are being made in the late afternoons and evenings, seven days a week. In addition, Rockford businesses are handing out surveys to their customers.

The ultimate goal of the survey, called Rockford First, is to enhance economic activity within the city.

“A lot of people characterize Rockford as a bedroom community. But our recent tax roll information indicates that 51 percent of our tax base is actually commercial and industrial, and we’re surprised to see that,” said City Manager Michael Young.

“We’ve seen a lot of commercial growth in the area and it became important to my board to make an effort to promote the businesses that we had to help them to be successful, but also to make a concerted effort to attract those businesses that our residents need in our community, to keep them from having to commute to other areas of the region,” he added.

The commercial growth Young referred to includes the D&W Food Centers plaza and the Champion Health & Fitness gym. Also, a much-needed jewelry store opened downtown and more development is being done on the city’s north side. A new hotel on the Rogue River is in the plans, too.

The idea for Rockford First first came up about 20 months ago at a regular session of the City Council. The Rockford Economic Development Corp. unveiled the initiative in the spring, and Wondergem Consulting of Grand Rapids assisted the city with putting the project together.

“Many just thought that we should start advertising and marketing our community. But we thought that was a bad approach until we had some good solid data that told us what people think about the City of Rockford and the Rockford business environment. We need to know what they think of buying when they need a shower present or a birthday present,” said Young.

“Do they automatically get in the car and drive to Alpine or 28th Street? Or do they know that a lot of goods and services are right here in our own community? Because Rockford has changed a lot in the last 10 years from a commercial standpoint,” he said.

Young said that downtown has gone from being a series of touristy-type craft shops to a group of solid stores geared to residents. A decade ago he said shop owners were marketing to visitors, but now their target is the people who live there. By the way, the 2000 U.S. Census showed that Rockford’s population grew by 23 percent in 10 years, and now tops 4,600.

Once the survey results are known, Young said the city would use the data to recruit the types of businesses that residents say they want.

“We think that our market is a 15- to 20-minute drive from our community, and most important, the residents of our community,” said Young.

City officials feel that Rockford has plenty of attractions, such as the Rogue River and the White Pines Trail, to keep residents there and to draw nearby visitors, and their hope is that both groups will make regular trips to local businesses.

“I think the branding of the program, Rockford First, says it all. We want people to think Rockford first before they think of anywhere else to go to meet their shopping needs,” said Young. “Certainly, we have to promote what we have here, and we have to make sure that what we don’t have here we can bring in.”           

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