Building The Rockford Brand

December 13, 2002
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(Final story in a 2-part series)
ROCKFORD — Now that the survey results have been digested and an awareness campaign is on the front burner, a thorough recipe on how to attract retailers and service providers to Rockford can now be whipped together.

The ingredients for it will come from Rockford First, a survey of residents and their shopping habits. The marketing effort will revolve around how to get more residents to do their buying with city merchants. The survey showed that adding more stores was the best path to take to get that done.

"We'd like a clothing store. We would like a bookstore. We would like another fine-dining establishment," said Michael Young, Rockford city manager, of the wish list that residents gave.

"The people wanted a jewelry store and now we've got the data to go to a jewelry store and say that you were listed as one of the top stores that people want us to bring into the community. Hopefully, that will validate a location decision to come to our city," he added.

The strategy to lure retailers and service providers will likely be built around the message that Rockford is a good place to live. After identifying the current businesses and noting that their prices are competitive, the marketing brand will be formed around the rustic views the city offers; the safe, clean neighborhoods it has; and the variety of outdoor activities that are available there.

"We will focus on improving existing services and formulate methods that will enhance business options and add new amenities for residents and visitors," said David Fry, chairman of the Rockford Economic Development Council.

"We will work to strengthen and complement the current downtown business mix through a long-term economic development plan," said Tim Wondegem, president of Wondergem Consulting, which will help market the Rockford brand.

City officials have outlined Rockford's potential market as consumers who live within a 10- to 15-minute drive, and they consider this a more realistic approach than was taken in the past. Ten years ago, Young said the city tried to lure people from an hour or two away and that line of attack didn't work often enough.

Besides, Young said, the city doesn't have to reach that far anymore with the growth that the north end of the county has had over the past decade. Plus, the city is expecting more potential consumers to move within its limits in the near future.

"We have about 400 residential lots that have just been approved. That's 400 new families that we can make an impression on, on the day they move into our community," he said.

Young said the city has put together a list of the goods and services available locally and plans to get it into the hands of their new residents.

"As soon as they come into Rockford we can start educating them and let them know where they can find the goods and services that they are looking for."

The drive to make Rockford first isn't something that is only being undertaken by the city. No, it's fair to call this push a community pull.

"It's going to be the city, the chamber, the schools and our major industries, right down to the smallest operation in downtown Rockford," said Young.

Nor is the effort being approached with a dire sense of angst. Instead, reassurance seems to be the most common emotion involved.

"The fact that 70 percent of the people we surveyed said that they were going to other places to buy their goods and services doesn't faze us," he added. "We're already doing well and we're only hitting 30 to 40 percent of the people within a 10- to 15-minute drive. Think of the potential we have now to tap into that 70 percent."           

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