Recent News

Poplar Grove could grow again if newly elected officials’ plans take hold

By Susan Vela
Staff writer Rockford Register Star

POPLAR GROVE — They won voters’ confidence in April, and now they’re planning to spur residential growth in this community of 5,000 people that was on the upswing before the Great Recession started in late 2007.

Village President Owen Costanza is leading the charge with new trustees Sophia Ramdass, Eric Miller and Erin Walsh, and Clerk Karri Anderberg.

They have amped up the village’s social media presence, rezoned residential property for commercial purposes along Illinois 76, set aside about $15,000 for a new park in the West Grove subdivision and aggressively started remarketing the community as “A Great Place to Call Home.”

They also plan to install new welcome signs, and they’re devoting themselves to speaking highly of their village.

“It’s just getting out there, walking that path and knocking on doors,” said Ramdass, who is handling much of the marketing. “Now, it’s just a matter of communicating with the other communities. I look at small steps as being a step.”

Poplar Grove was moving beyond its farming village reputation and catching the attention of homebuilders before the housing bubble burst. Several proposed subdivisions never got built. Existing developments have hundreds of lots available. There also are undeveloped lots.

The American Census counted 5,023 residents in 2010, up from 1,368 in 2000. Plans called for even more growth.

Poplar Grove’s sewer and water system is capable of supporting 15,000 customers. Yet it only has 1,400.

“We took the philosophy of ‘if we build it, they will come,’” Costanza said. “They were. Then it stopped. So now what do we do? … We still have the same infrastructure to maintain. We don’t have the people and the revenue to sustain that.”

Ramdass and other village officials attended the June 17 Neighbors’ Fest at Lions Park, talking to anyone they could about their village.

The village had marketed the event with fliers and media releases to bring in residents from outside Poplar Grove. Families visiting Lions Park for baseball games lingered to enjoy the festival’s food, vendors, and games for children.

“It’s an all-in-one great community,” said Caitlin Stender, who moved to Poplar Grove from Rockford years ago. “It’s quaint. It’s small. But everyone here is friendly.”

Leaders also have been discussing creating new committees to improve communications in coordinating events the village is involved in, including Neighbors’ Fest, North Boone Fire District Neighbors Night Street Dance and Boone County Fair.

“We’ll be looking for residents to sit on those committees,” Miller said.

Pamela Lopez-Fettes is the new executive director of Growth Dimensions, a public-private organization trying to ignite economic development throughout the region. She said trustees could help draw more people to Poplar Grove through enterprise zones that offers tax breaks to developers. They also could build on the village’s reputation for affordable housing and being home to the Poplar Grove Airport.

“They have a lot to offer,” Lopez-Fettes said.

Village Administrator Diana Dykstra, who painted children’s faces at Neighbors’ Fest, said “a lot of people just don’t know that we exist.”

“We are that great place to live,” she said. “It’s comfortable enough to still be a small town and yet close enough to shop in Belvidere and to shop in Rockford and Machesney.

“You may not work here. But pretty soon we hope you’ll live here,” Dykstra said.

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;


Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Supplier Symposium

Congressman Adam Kinzinger Invites You To Attend Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ May 12 Supplier Symposium

 Hosted by Congressman Adam Kinzinger, U.S. House of Representatives 16th Congressional District of Illinois

You are invited to participate in this upcoming symposium to learn about  the potential to become a supplier and/or partner. 

 On behalf of Congressman Adam Kinzinger with partners Growth Dimensions and the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.

FCA Supplier Symposium │ Friday, May 12, 2017

7:30 am – 12:30 pm

Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center

610 N. Bell School Road, Rockford IL

 This event is an opportunity for regional businesses to review a targeted invitation for suppliers and partners who fit into the supply chain areas of interests of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and five FCA tier-one local suppliers; Dearborn Mid-West Company, Magna Exteriors, Piston Group, Yanfeng, and Brose.



7:30 a.m. – 8:00 a.m.

Check-In and Continental Breakfast 

8:00 a.m. – 8:15 a.m.

Welcome and Remarks by Congressman Adam Kinzinger

 8:15 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

Presentation by FCA and Individual Presentations by FCA Tier-One Suppliers

 9:30 am – 12:30 pm

Individual 10-minute Matchmaking Meetings with FCA and Tier-One Representatives

 Those organizations interested in participating in the matchmaking portion of this supplier symposium will be pre-screened and must be affiliated with one of the services, products or identified areas of interest below: 

 Autonomy (ADAS), Infotainment, Features, Light weighting, general services, facilities, IT, Transportation, Fasteners, Facilities/Contractors, Assembly Equipment Integrators, value-add assembly, logistics providers, metal fabricators, NMA (National Maintenance Agreement) signatory contractors: (Electrical, Piping, Concrete, Fire protection, Sheet metal, Electrical controls and programming, Steel Fabrication shops, and Structural steel providers), Engineering design and detailing, Sprockets, bearings, fasteners, and other power transmission components, Equipment calibration (e.g. gauge calibration), Local colleges or business that offer lean, 5S, Statistical Process Control (SPC), Six Sigma, etc., IT supplies (MRO), Stanley brand torque gun service, Cognex camera support and training, Fanuc robot training, PLC support (possible automotive integrator), Staffing agency for hourly temporary employees, Indirect Services (such as cleaning, facilities maintenance, sorting and containment, local utilities support, other services specific), Direct Material injection molding shops, paint, tooling shops / support.


Registration Requests are required by May 2 

To apply for participation in this symposium, please send:

  • Organizational name and web address, and contact name
  • applicable qualifies service(s) from list above, contact email address
  • phone number to

For questions, please contact: 

Growth Dimensions at 815.547.4252 or Rockford Area Economic Development Council at 815.987.8118


 In regard to manufacturing, Congressman Kinzinger states on his website:  

“Preserving our status as the world’s leading manufacturing economy is vital to maintaining a thriving middle class, a bright economic future, and our nation’s spirit of invention and innovation. As emerging economies create a more competitive global economy, the United States needs a renewed focus on preparing for a new manufacturing renaissance and a national manufacturing strategy that can get us there.”



Established in 1979, Growth Dimensions provides a progressive and cooperative environment which improves the quality of life by fostering economic opportunity and personal growth. With economic development partners throughout Belvidere-Boone County, Growth Dimensions is advancing a coordinated economic development strategy to create jobs, promote community assets and stimulate capital investment through business retention and attraction efforts.


The primary role of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC) is to collaboratively enhance wealth creation in the Rockford Region by helping employers retain and create quality jobs. The RAEDC works closely with many partners to learn what existing and new employers need to grow, and to serve as a one-stop resource for clients. The RAEDC seeks to improve the competitiveness of the region by taking what it learns from the region’s employers, and engaging the community in the daily work of economic development.


Retooling hearts and minds for the Jeep Cherokee at Belvidere’s Fiat Chrysler Plant

Tomasz Gebka, a 37-year-old Poland native, is helping the Italian-American automaker orchestrate a $350M retooling of the of the plant

By Isaac Guerrero
Staff writer

BELVIDERE — Tomasz Gebka is overseeing a $350 million retooling of the Belvidere Assembly Plant and the training of roughly 4,500 employees, including 300 new hires, to accommodate production of the Jeep Cherokee, which will begin in the coming weeks.

Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s plan is to increase global Jeep sales from 1.4 million to 3 million vehicles a year, and the Belvidere plant is key to that goal. Cherokee production is winding down at the Fiat Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio, and will officially switch to Belvidere on April 7. Production here will gradually amplify through the spring and summer to an eventual 300,000 vehicles a year.

Assembly lines have been equipped with new robotics and Skillet Conveyors — massive platforms that rise and fall like an accordion, ensuring every assembly function is at arm’s length, eliminating the need for workers to stoop or stretch as they perform each step of the build.

Less visible, though perhaps more important, is the culture shift that’s happening inside the factory, said Gebka, the plant manager.

Gebka, 37, knows a thing or two about culture. The Poland native speaks four languages — German, Italian, English and Polish. He studied electronics and and telecommunications at Silesian University of Technology in Upper Sielsia, Poland, and has worked at Fiat Chrysler plants in Poland and in Italy during his 11 years with the Italian-American automaker. He came to Belvidere in July to prepare for and oversee the plant retooling.

“You can have the best equipment, the best plant and make the best vehicles,” Gebka said. “But it doesn’t matter if we do not touch the hearts of the employees.”

Gebka is well-versed in the Fiat Chrysler methodology of World Class Manufacturing, which teaches employees throughout the company to cut wasted time, energy and materials from the auto production process and how to empower workers to improve themselves and their factories themselves and solve problems in real time.

The vehicles that zoom down today’s highways are a high-tech amalgamation of metal, rubber, plastic, polymers and electronics. But it’s the intangible raw materials — love, passion, curiosity and “a desire to build the perfect product” — that set the beautiful cars apart from the rest, Gebka said.

There’s long been a culture of continuous improvement among employees at the Belvidere plant. Nurturing that culture is critical.

“This is the beauty of this business,” Gebka said. “… Even if I’m the best today, what can I do tomorrow to improve, to raise the bar?”

A ‘process center’ comprised of 10 assembly stations was built inside the plant a month ago. It allows employees to examine the assembly process on a smaller scale and work out any kinks, Gebka said.

Every step is being tested and tweaked so that assembly is as quick, efficient and safe as possible. Thirteen ‘pilot’ cars have been built that workers can familiarize themselves with the finished product.

“Jeep is on a roll right now, said Michael Harley, a Kelley Blue Book analyst. “The Cherokee is a fun SUV. It’s rugged, it’s outdoorsy. The 2018 redesign will feature a new engine and sales should boom. … Crossovers are very hot right now, and they’re going to stay hot for at least the next five to 10 years.”

Thousands of designers, engineers, skilled tradesman and others have come to the Belvidere plant — some come for days, some for weeks or months — to assist with the retooling. They’re staying at local hotels, dining at local restaurants and giving the local economy a boost.

The Belvidere plant is the single largest employer in the region, and jobs there are highly coveted, said Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson. Starting pay for assemblers is about $17 an hour plus benefits per the latest United Auto Workers union contract. Electricians, millwrights and other skilled trades jobs pay even more.

The response from applicants was so intense when Fiat Chrysler advertised the new Belvidere positions online this month that the website was taken down within about two minutes, Tinson said.

“This investment by Fiat Chrysler is a very good sign for the Belvidere area,” Harley said. “The plant is being modernized, and the training and education that the workers are receiving is invaluable. It means they’ll have the latest skillsets so the plant is as productive and efficient long into the future.”

Isaac Guerrero: 815-987-1361;


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