Home » Belvidere Assembly Plant, OSF Healthcare, Mercyhealth decrease staff – Rockford Register Star

Belvidere Assembly Plant, OSF Healthcare, Mercyhealth decrease staff – Rockford Register Star

by Arifa Rana

ROCKFORD — Some of the area’s largest employers have downsized in recent years as the region continues to evolve from an industrial economy to more of a service-oriented and professional workforce.
Hardest hit is the Belvidere Assembly Plant, which has seen its staff reduced from over 5,000 workers in early 2018 to fewer than 1,500 today, a 70% drop.
Plant owner Stellantis recently announced plans to eliminate more jobs this spring as sales of the Jeep Cherokee, which are assembled in Belvidere, declined 34% in 2021 due in part to an ongoing semiconductor shortage.
While Stellantis has shed the most jobs in the past five years in the Rockford region, it is far from alone when it comes to job loss, according to the latest figures from the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.
More: Here are the 10 largest employers in the Rockford region
Several major local employers from factories and tool shops to health care systems are operating with fewer employees.
And while job loss in cities like Rockford and others across the nation’s Rust Belt is a familiar, decades-old challenge, some of the losses of recent years are being attributed to something with much more global impact. 
According to the head of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, employment numbers for the region — and much of the world —  have been skewed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
“We’ve had a global pandemic that has had a once-in-a-lifetime impact on our economy,” RAEDC executive director Therese Thill said. “Not only manufacturing and service but for individuals as well. We’ve seen some companies that had to shut down as they negotiated the ramifications of social distancing. We’ve had companies who have had their supply chains disrupted and we’ve, of course, seen the shortage of silicon chips.”
Here’s a closer look at the economic development council’s employment numbers from 2018 and 2022:
4,000 to 3,000: Mercyhealth
3,359 to 3,780: UW Health
2,800 to 2,200: OSF Healthcare
2,379 to 2,000: UPS
2,200 to 2,000: Collins Aerospace
1,900 to 2,000: Woodward
1,800 to 1,500: PCI Pharma Services
From 2018 to 2022, Loves Park’s Mondelez International food processing plant has gone from 850 jobs to 280, a loss of 67%. 
Loves Park is also home to Woodward and other manufacturing plants and factories, but Mayor Greg Jury says he’s starting to see a shift in businesses coming to the city. 
“Our manufacturing is still pretty strong but the bulk of our new development obviously is retail from Costco to the small businesses up and down Riverside Boulevard,” Jury said.
Rockton’s Taylor Company has gone from 670 to 500, a 25% workforce reduction. 
The number of area employees at Walmart, 1,470, and Lowe’s, 1,100, stayed relatively flat over the last five years.
The data shows five-year job growth occurring more so in the public sector at places like Winnebago County and Rockford Public Schools, and in the service industry with Amazon’s 1,500 jobs added in the past year.
More: Side hustles: Study shows more people needing to work second job, working longer hours
While two of the region’s three healthcare systems have cut their workforces in recent years, the health care industry will continue to grow both nationwide and locally as the population ages, according to Bob Evans, an associate professor of economics, business and political science at Rockford University.
“Just driving around, you see more professional facilities and clinics,” Evans said. “The more specialized health care services that are here, there’s a good chance that could attract parallel services, such as laboratories, analytical services, more diagnostic and more treatment services.” 
According to Evans, the more professional services jobs in the area, the better for the region’s economy and its sales tax and income tax base. 
Evans also sees growth locally in the financial services industry and independent human resources companies.
Illinois’ ongoing population decline and the state’s heavy tax burden continue to stunt economic growth opportunities in the Land of Lincoln, according to Evans.
“We lost enough population between 2010 and 2020 to lose one of our 18 seats in the House of Representatives,” Evans said. “That’s a population loss that means tax base, jobs and all sorts of things. A net drain in population is a net strain on the economy.”
The region’s largest employer, Rockford Public Schools, has added about 360 employees since 2018, employing about 4,075 workers today.
Winnebago County added about 140 workers over the past five years, employing 1,429 people today.
Other local governments saw smaller increases over the same time period — 47 more jobs at Harlem schools, 80 at Belvidere schools and 14 at the City of Rockford.
Rockford’s workforce is considerably smaller than similarly sized cities, according to Mayor Tom McNamara.
“We still have one third less staff at the city of Rockford than all of our comparable communities,” McNamara said. “Our team is just doing a lot more with a lot less and we’re doing that in part to make sure that we can keep property taxes down.”
The city of Rockford is positioning itself to attract more technology jobs thanks to a three year/$225 million investment partnership with SiFi Networks, McNamara said.
“Rockford is soon to be looked at as one of the better places for these technology jobs as we’ll be the only community in the state that is putting fiber optic cable in front of every business and in front of every home in the entire city,” McNamara said. “When it comes to infrastructure, we’ve passed the largest capital improvements plan in our city’s history in each of the last two years.”
More: President, CEO of Loves Park’s Woodward to retire. Here’s who will replace him
Ken DeCoster: kdecoster@rrstar.com; @DeCosterKen


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