Board Member Spotlight: Karl F. Franzen, City of Rockford, Illinois Director of Community & Economic Development and Illinois Director

Saturday, March 25, 2023

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Your Name: Karl F. Franzen
Your Organization: City of Rockford, Illinois
Your Title at Organization: Director of Community & Economic Development
Mid-America EDC Board Position: Illinois Director
How long have you been a member of Mid-America EDC? December 2019

Tell us about yourself!

I came to Rockford in 2015 after a decade of work at various institutions in Wisconsin.  I spent a year with the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, the region’s EDC, before transitioning to work directly with the City on its economic development efforts.  I became Director of Community & Economic Development in 2018 under Mayor Thomas McNamara.  I replaced my predecessor as one of Illinois’ delegates on the Mid-America EDC Board in December 2019.  I enjoy traveling and backpacking, relaxing with my Australian Shepherd, Billie, and watching live music and stand-up comedy.

Tell us about Rockford, Illinois, and your role there. 

In my role, I oversee Divisions including Zoning, Land Use, and Planning; Building and Permitting; Property and Neighborhood Standards; and Neighborhood Development, in addition to Economic Development.  Although its economy is more diversified today, Rockford remains a manufacturing center, especially in Aerospace and Advance Manufacturing. It also has the Chicago Rockford International Airport, one of the fastest-growing cargo airports in the world.  Rockford is also focused on its infill redevelopment, including downtown adaptive reuse, through brownfield remediation programs, Historic Tax Credits, Tax Increment Financing, and robust place-making.   

What are your economic development specialties? 

I work a lot on the long-range positioning of Rockford as a competitive community from direct site work such as targeted demolition of obsolete buildings, or brownfield assessment and clean-up as well as community development initiatives such as neighborhood improvements through rehabilitation/new construction of homes and efforts like universal fiber and the city’s Rockford Promise program.  Rockford is also focused on equitable development throughout the community, including small business development.  The City, in partnership with a non-profit, Think Big, is currently constructing and launching a small business accelerator specifically focused on minority- and women-owned businesses.  This center will align with the existing SBDC and City resources, including its new Community Development Financial Institution.  We spend a lot of effort engaging with small businesses and building those relationships to help them navigate the regulatory environment and capitalize on programs that will help them grow and sustain.    

What are your favorite places and things to do in your community and in Illinois? What are some hidden gems people might not know about? 

Rockford is a great place to live and work.  I enjoy living in a downtown urban environment, yet being able to access one of many Forest Preserves for a hike within a 10-minute drive.  People may know Rockford for the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball’s Rockford Peaches of the movie A League of Their Own (the new Amazon Prime series), or the Sock Monkey.  It also boasts the world-class Anderson Japanese Gardens, the Rockford IceHogs hockey team – owned by an affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Hard Rock Casino – Rockford, which is currently operational in its temporary location, as the permanent location is under construction.

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