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Rockford doing the right stuff for young pros, consultant says

Wednesday, October 13, 2010  
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By Jeff Kolkey
Posted Oct 13, 2010 @ 09:08 PM
Last update Oct 14, 2010 @ 05:47 AM

Next Generation consultant Rebecca Ryan gave Rockford kudos for its efforts to become more attractive to young professionals, pointed out how the poor economy may work to Rockford’s advantage and encouraged efforts to land Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Ryan’s return more than three years after she wrote a report with 21 suggestions on how to better attract and retain young professionals comes amid an "economic crap sandwich.”
Her exuberance and language only got more colorful from there.

"This has been going on 13 years and we really have had only two clients that we feel have kicked the (butt) of our recommendations, and you guys are one of them,” she told about 50 people Wednesday at Rockford College.

"I tell stories about Rockford all over North America. They say, ‘Oh, but we don’t have mountains.’ And I say, ‘Well, Rockford doesn’t have mountains, but they had more than 700 people show up for their first Jobapalooza.’”

Ryan was here to promote LiveBig Weekend 2010, a series of events Nov. 24 to 27 dedicated to growing Rockford’s population of "boomerangers” — professionals in their late 20s and 30s who grew up here but pursued a career elsewhere and might be convinced to return here to live.

It takes place over Thanksgiving weekend, when potential boomerangers are more likely to be home for the holiday. Among the highlights is a large job fair called Jobapalooza.

Aviation challenge
Ryan encouraged Rockford to get creative when it comes to persuading Embry-Riddle leaders to build their third campus here, saying it’s coming down to quality of student life and a "bribe” — how much our region and rival contender Houston are willing to pay for the campus.

On the student life front, she suggested putting together a drive to get 1,000 families to commit to cooking a home-cooked meal for a student or finding professionals with similar interests who are willing to sponsor students in some way.

Economic advantage
The poor economy is making jobs scarce, but it may actually work in Rockford’s favor if the region can promote itself as an affordable place to live.

That’s because young professionals list affordability as the top factor in a decision of where to live, Ryan said — even ahead of job availability. A few years ago, Rockford may have been a second-tier player to after-hours activities.

"Now that people are asking if they can afford to live there, Rockford is coming up on the list of places people can afford to live.”

Reach staff writer Jeff Kolkey at or 815-987-1374.

This story appeared at on October 13, 2010.

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