This article is part of Next Up, a special section published June 30 about the future leaders of the Rock River Valley

ROCKFORD — State Rep. Maurice West II was pleased to vote for a balanced budget that includes plenty of perks for the Forest City, including a new casino, $275 million earmarked for passenger rail service, money for maintenance of roads and bridges, and the promise of hundreds of construction jobs to bring each project to fruition.

Now comes the hard part.

"We’ve got to make sure everyone delivers," he said.

"When they start building this I plan on driving by and making sure that there are women, black folks, brown folks — people from the 67th (District) are all there to help build this casino. I want people from the 67th to get as much out of this as possible."

West, a former director of career development at Rockford University, is a freshman lawmaker who credits his first and second ventures into politics — a failed 2012 run for a seat on the City Council and a failed 2014 run for Rock Valley College trustee — as building blocks.

"Those two losses got me ready for this," he said, seated in his third-floor office in the E.J. Zeke Giorgi Center overlooking the Rock River. "Those two losses helped me stay grounded. Because when you go to Springfield, your mindset has to change. Here in Rockford, it’s ‘What can I do for you?’ When I go to Springfield, it’s like, ‘What can you do for me so that I can do for my district?’"

West, D-Rockford, already is party to the largest capital program in the state’s history, but he said there is still much to do such as addressing the food desert on the city’s west side and a lack of well-paying jobs throughout the county. 

"Remember back in the day when Illinois 173 was nothing but cornfields? Springfield Avenue is similar to what 173 used to be," he said. "Why can’t Springfield Avenue be the next Illinois 173?

"I’ve talked to RMAP (Rockford Metropolitan Agency For Planning) and they say we need more rooftops to justify a Walmart or a grocery store going way out there. It’s a conversation that I am willing to have."

West also said he wants to help make the workforce in the region more marketable to attract more employers.

"We have a skills gap of 44,000 people without a GED or high school diploma," he said. "We need to decrease that skills gap and make way for more short-term training programs like apprenticeships. Not everyone is built for college, but anyone and everyone can get a license for certification.

"We need to get people certified and marketable to get a job, and then businesses will start coming."

Chris Green: 815-987-1241;; @chrisfgreen





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via Rockford Register Star

July 1, 2019 at 05:03PM