Located along three major freeways (I-90, U.S. 20, and I-39) and on the banks of the Rock River, Rockford is the third-largest city in Illinois with a population of around 170,000. Rockford is the seat of Winnebago County and is also a major cargo-transportation hub--Rockford International Airport is heavily used for cargo, particularly by United Parcel Service (UPS), a major employer in the area. Although Rockford experienced a period of economic decline that lasted from the 1960s until the 1980s, the city today has a broad-based economy that has allowed it to thrive as both a business and entertainment center for the region.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
With about 62,500 workers, Rockford's service sector offers the most jobs in the area, particularly in healthcare services, followed by manufacturing, at 34,000 jobs. Products made in Rockford range from chewing gum to aircraft and aerospace components, packaging, fasteners, and farm machinery. The rest of Rockford's diverse employment base includes jobs in government, mining and construction, transportation and warehousing, financial, and information sectors. The largest employer in Rockford, with 3,735 employees, is Rockford Health System. Other major employers include:
- SwedishAmerican Health System (2,625 employees)
- Hamilton Sundstrand Corporation (2,200)
- OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center (2,094)
- UPS (1,600)
- AMCORE Bank (1,595)
- Anderson Packaging (1,200)
- NCO Telemarketing (1,200)
- Woodward (1,071)
- Wal-Mart (1,010)
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
Neighborhood pride is alive and well in Rockford. Many neighborhoods are organized into associations for improvement and preservation:
- Haight Village: The first historic district in Rockford, Haight Village features mostly restored older houses dating back as far as the mid-1800s. Housing styles range from Victorian to Greek Revival, Queen Anne to Gothic. The neighborhood covers 13 blocks just south and east of downtown.
- Jackson Oaks: This quiet residential neighborhood is bounded on the north by Rural Street, on the west by Longwood Street, on the east by Prospect Street, and on the south by State Street.
- North End Square: Members of this close-knit community have banded together not only to distinguish the neighborhood's historic buildings but also to raise money for sidewalk replacement and upgraded lighting for added safety.
- Edgewater: Edgewater consists mostly of single-family homes, as well as apartments. Known for its neighborly feel and community involvement, it is bounded on the north by Willoughby Avenue, on the south by Auburn Street, on the east by North Main Street, and on the west by Ridge Avenue.
- Signal Hill: This once-rundown and neglected neighborhood is now the focus of a massive renovation led by a development of mixed housing on the site of the former Garrison School.
- Churchill's Grove: Architecturally striking homes in a variety of styles (Victorian, American Tudor, Dutch Colonial, Edwardian, and Prairie) are found in this leafy city neighborhood with a suburban feel.
Rockford has a plethora of malls and shopping centers, including:
- Cherryvale Mall, includes anchor stores and several national retailers
- Colonial Village Mall, home to many specialty stores and services, including travel, weight loss, and even a church
- North Towne Mall, which offers a strip mall and movie theater
- Machesney Park Mall, a very successful mall in the 1980s but is much quieter now
- Edgebrook Shopping Center, made up of boutiques and service-oriented stores
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Performing arts are an integral part of community life in Rockford. Several theater and choral groups call the area home. One group is Kantorei, a boys' choir that performs both locally and internationally. The area is dotted with popular venues:
- MetroCentre: This 10,000-seat arena in downtown Rockford hosts concerts and other events.
- Coronado Performing Arts Center: Groups that perform in this historic theater include Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Rockford Dance Company, Rockford Coronado Concert Association, and Land of Lincoln Theater Organ Society.
- Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center: Concerts, recitals, and musical workshops are held in this center.
Rockford is also home to a number of art museums:
- Discovery Center Museum: This science and art museum includes a planetarium and outdoor adventures in Rock River Discovery Park.
- Rockford Art Museum: Permanent and temporary exhibits, including a sculpture garden, showcase the work of regional and national artists.
Opportunities for learning and exploring abound in Rockford:
- Burpee Museum of Natural History: Exhibits include Jane, a 65 million-year-old tyrannosaur; the museum also offers workshops and special events.
- Erlander Home Museum: A preserved 1871 showcases the area's Swedish ancestry with locally made furniture, a doll collection, and memorabilia from Swedish immigrants.
- Ethnic Heritage Museum: Irish, Italian, African American, Polish, Lithuanian, and Hispanic cultures are honored here.
- Graham-Ginestra House Museum: This restored 1857 house is part of Rockford's original settlement.
- Keeling-Puri Peace Plaza: This outdoor plaza includes the Court of 40 Flags, with flags representing the different nationalities that make up Rockford's current population.
- Midway Village and Museum Center: Historic buildings and exhibits depict important area history; a gallery is dedicated to the Rockford Peaches women's professional baseball team, which was featured in the movie A League of Their Own.
- Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum: This well-preserved 1865 Swiss-style home still contains the possessions of the original family who lived there.
For a city of its size, Rockford boasts quite a few representative teams in different professional sports:
- Hockey: The United Hockey League franchise Rockford Icehogs plays at the MetroCentre.
- Soccer: The Rockford Thunder plays its home games at the Indoor Sports Center in Loves Park.
- Baseball: The Frontier League baseball team Rockford Riverhawks makes its home at Marinelli Field.
- Waterskiing: Rockford is home to a professional water-ski team, the Rockford Ski Broncs, that performs on the Rock River from June through September.
- Auto Racing: Rockford Speedway hosts the NASCAR-sanctioned Weekly Racing Series.
Rockford keeps a busy social calendar:
- Rockford AirFest: This June event features the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron that perform choreographed movements in flight.
- On the Waterfront: This Labor Day Weekend music festival spotlights emerging artists, a variety of musical talents, and a 5K run and other special events.
- Fourth of July festivities: Family-friendly events start with a patriotic breakfast in one of the many neighborhood parks and culminate with a nighttime fireworks display.