We continue our series "Community Close-Up" in a city trying to capitalize on its prime location. Rochelle sits along Lincoln Highway near I-39 and I-88, earning it the nickname as the "Hub City." City leaders hope recent upgrades and business opportunities will attract people to this city at the crossroads.
When Nippon Sharyo moved its North American headquarters to Rochelle last summer and opened a major manufacturing facility there, it was hailed as a signal achievement for the city. But while it was among the largest, and certainly one of the most high profile developments to come to town, it wasn’t the only one - not by a long shot. In fact, in the last decade, the town that refers to itself as the Hub City has closed development deals totaling more than one point two billion dollars. Not bad for a town of less than ten thousand people. How and why has that happened? Rochelle Mayor Chet Olson says part of the reason lies in the city’s name for itself, the Hub City:
We have two major railroads that crisscross here and two major highways that crisscross here and they’re not going to go away. So, we’ve learned to capitalize on the transportation and movement of goods and services through our community. We’ve looked at that and taken it to the next level.
Jason Anderson, director of the Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corporation, a public-private nonprofit entity that partners with the city, goes even further:
Rochelle is probably the most progressive community in the United States for a town its size. Rochelle has its own utility. We built a fiber optic network. We became our own ISP. We built our own railroad and our own technology park.
Anderson says that energetic vision of growth was what first drew him to come to Rochelle. Anderson says a major turning point was when his predecessor at GREDCO, Ken Wise, landed Global III, a large intermodal facility built by Union Pacific, in 2003.
It put us on the world’s logistics map. People began to see the word Rochelle.
But, Anderson says, location, assets, and name recognition can only go so far, as municipalities around the country engage in an increasingly fierce competition for jobs and economic growth. He gives much of the credit for the city’s success over the past decade to what he calls Team Rochelle. He says it’s a close collaboration that brings together the development office with city and county officials, as well as businesses.
The economic development office here is kind of the hub, if I might use that phrase, of the Hub City. In other words, we interface with the landowners, the utility companies, the state and federal agencies. We are that one stop shop if we can use that phrase as well, whereby a business comes and they talk to one person, or one entity, and they get all their answers, and they get them quickly.
Anderson says it’s telling that his office is in City Hall, upstairs from the Mayor and City Manager, and a short walk to the Utility Director or the Chamber of Commerce. That allows for a lot of close interaction, and, he says, makes for a very tight knit working unit.
A lot of growth means the need for a lot of infrastructure improvements, as well as increased fire and police. But Mayor Olson says the increase in revenues, along with state and federal grants along the way, offsets those increased costs. And in spite of the economic growth, Olson says, in many ways, Rochelle’s still a small town.
As you drive around the community in town you don’t realize how we’ve grown. You don’t find out until you drive to the outskirts and drive into our industrial parks.
In fact, Olson says, according to the census the town itself has only added about 150 people over the last ten years. But that’s not the whole story.
Rochelle, even though it’s a town of 10 thousand people, balloons to a population of 30, 40 thousand people during the day, just because of the logistics of people coming and going, and visiting our community, whether it be shopping or business.
But, Olson says, the city’s convenient location can also be a challenge.
People have always gone to DeKalb or Rockford to shop. We’re trying to get those shoppers to stay here in Rochelle.
That means convincing stores that have outlets in those other cities to look beyond Rochelle’s official size, and build here. Olson also says, just like other communities, the city wants to improve its downtown, and make it a destination for residents and visitors alike. Olson is optimistic that will happen.
Jason Anderson agrees with Olson that there things in Rochelle that need improvement, but he too is confident about the city’s future.
We’ve been creating jobs and creating the economic base to do some big things with that going for us, the vision and the passion that has taken us to this point will continue to grow the community.
And that, he says, is what makes it exciting to be in Rochelle.
History of Rochelle
The town of Rochelle, Illinois became a city in 1853, and at that time was known as Lane. Anywhere from 80 to 120 trains pass through Rochelle in a 24 hour period. This has made Rochelle a “hot spot” for train watching.
In 1915, etiquette book author Emily Post traveled Lincoln Highway. During her travels she became stuck in the mud in Rochelle and spent 3 days at the Collier Hotel. A mural of Post now adorns the corner of Lincoln Highway & 5th Avenue.
-information from Rochelle Tourism
About Community Close-Up
The WNIJ audience includes a wide geographic area in diverse communities with a wide range of challenges and opportunities. This occasional series will inform our audience -- both on air and online -- of activities, opportunities and events in individual communities to build common understanding among listeners of the government, business and social climate in northern Illinois.