Your turn: 2022 was big year for economic development efforts in Rockford

We're proud of what we've accomplished, but we know we have more work to do.

Your turn: 2022 was big year for economic development efforts in Rockford

As we begin 2023, we're taking a few weeks to highlight some of the city's successes in 2022. Last week, we talked about our neighborhood improvement initiatives. Today, we'll focus on our economic development efforts from the past year.  Small business support : We created a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in partnership with Rockford Local Development Corporation, Northern Illinois Community Development Corporation and local financial institutions to support small businesses as they strengthen our neighborhoods.

CDFIs provide financial products and services to create economic opportunity in low and moderate income communities. Minority and women small business incubator: Thanks to a generous building donation from Peter and Heather Provenzano, we partnered with Think Big, a local non-profit organization, to establish a small business incubator for minority- and women-owned businesses at 1311 N. Main Street. Downtown redevelopment: Construction began on Water Power Lofts, the renovation of the existing five-story building at 700 South Main to include 60 residential market rate units and a roof top deck. '301' a 40,000 square-foot mixed-used new construction building has been erected on the former Hanley lot and will offer a mix of one- and two-bedroom ultra-luxury apartments, fitness area, rooftop deck and ground floor retail space.

Cedar Street redevelopment agreement has been approved advancing the adaptive reuse of 502 Cedar Street known as Mack Paper/Bartlett Building and 628-642 Cedar Street, known as the Condon-Shumway Seed Company Building. The redevelopment of these unique spaces will establish residential lofts and commercial work and gallery space. More:Your turn: Looking back at 2022 and what's ahead in 2023Main Street corridor improvements: Rockford received more than $5 million in state funding to help restore the Times Theater and reconstruct Madison Street. The improvements are part of a grant program that is designed to revitalize commercial corridors and main streets throughout Illinois.  Davis Park: We began a complete transformation of the only City-owned park.

Once complete, Davis Park will feature a sunning beach, boats docks, splash pads, a multi-use trail, a skate park, a canopy stage and a plaza with space for food trucks during special events.    Capital Improvement Plan: We implemented the largest Capital Improvement Plan in the City's History in 2022 and approved a new five-year plan, which allocates $340 million in road, active transportation, storm sewer, bridge and water system repairs and improvements. The CIP is the city's primary planning document that guides how we spend revenue from a 1-cent city infrastructure sales tax and from motor fuel taxes, while leveraging state and federal investment in city transportation and infrastructure.  Permanent casino: We broke ground on the permanent Hard Rock Casino. This project will employ between 800 and a thousand union construction workers and between 600 and 800 permanent employees averaging $50,000 a year.

A portion of the revenue will help fund the Rockford Promise NIU Scholarship. Under this program, students who live in Rockford, attend Rockford Public Schools and earn a 3.0 GPA, can attend Northern Illinois University tuition and general fee free. Now in its second year, more than 205 students are taking advantage of the program.

Of these participants, 70 percent are students of color and 70 percent are first generation college students. West State Street: West State Street from Day Avenue to Independence Avenue was reconstructed from two to four lanes with new storm sewers, signals, sidewalks and a multi-use path. This work transformed the west entrance to our city and now provides a warmer welcome for our residents and visitors. Emerson Estates: An unfinished subdivision near Auburn High School is being reimagined thanks to a partnership between the City, Region 1 Planning Council, Habitat for Humanity and Rockford Public Schools. Twenty-five tax delinquent vacant lots will be converted into tax-paying, single family homes for working-class families.

The homes - built in large part by Rockford Public Schools construction trade students - will create new, safe, affordable housing. Collins Aerospace wind tunnel: Collins Aerospace opened a new $18 million wind tunnel in Rockford. The fully automated, state-of-the-art tunnel allows Collins to streamline the testing of its Ram Air Turbine product family with real-time data analytics. This facility is a key component in making Rockford a leading aerospace hub in the country. Viking Chemical: Viking Chemical relocated and expanded by taking over 230,000 square feet of the vacant Rockford Products building. Rockford IceHogs/Chicago Blackhawks office: The Rockford IceHogs/Chicago Blackhawks opened a new commercial office space in downtown Rockford.

The Rockford IceHogs, in partnership with BMO and BMO Center, also announced a multi-year partnership for the downtown Rockford arena unveiling a new arena name - the BMO Center, along with new renovations. Airport growth: The Chicago Rockford International Airport continues to be the fastest growing cargo airport in the world, and it employs thousands of our residents. Barber Colman – Due diligence work continues by J Jeffers, a real estate development and investment firm, on the former Barber Colman Complex. If the sale proceeds, as expected, after the due diligence period, the anticipated mixed- use campus will be developed over seven to 10 years in multiple phases. This will bring much-needed development to the southwest side of our community. We're proud of what we've accomplished, but we know we have more work to do.

Economic development is a critical tool that drives growth in our economy, creates new job opportunities and facilitates an improved quality of life.Tom McNamara is the mayor of Rockford.