Our members bring an impressive range of academic, business, economic and cultural experiences to help form a truly diverse group. We believe in our community. And we are working to build a stronger community for tomorrow.


Jake Castanza

Executive Director

Project First Rate

How long have you been a member of Next Rockford?

Project First Rate has been a member for several years; I started in June 2016.

Why are you a NR Member?

First, because this is the best place for millennials and Gen Xers to gather and network. I have formed many strong relationships due to my participation in the group. Second, we learn about our community and educate ourselves with the ‘who is who’ and ‘what is what’. A great example is when we met both of Rockford’s new college presidents or when we toured the newly renovated Rockford Police District 2 Headquarters restored by Schmeling Construction. Thirdly, this is our chance as “up and coming” professionals and leaders to make a lasting impression on one another, this aspect of relationship building goes past networking and I think this element is truly unique to Next Rockford. This component gives me a greater sense of investment and purpose when participating with the other members.

What is your vision for the Rockford region?

In reference to vision, I see it as developing consensus about what future the community wants and then deciding what is necessary to achieve it.  We all know that Rockford is combating old and new issues on a daily basis, however, I see Rockford moving to an innovative and creative place where there is a priority on middle-class wages, low levels of crime, and high achievement in our school system. The vision includes our community leaders and politicians viewing the elements needed to form a forward-looking strategic framework that gives councils or boards the long-term-comprehensive perspective necessary to make rational and disciplined tactical/incremental decisions on community issues as they arise.  And finally, I see our business community coming together with a common goal: to keep our economy local, but to be global in our approach.  By this I mean we should consider buying from our local contractors and businesses first, and at the same time accepting the changes in our socio-economic climate, which allows flexibility in our offerings (skilled workforce, existing infrastructure, innovation, tax incentive, etc…)

What is your favorite thing to do in the Rockford region/place to visit, etc.?

My favorite thing(s) to do in Rockford involves our Rockford Park District Golf Courses, namely Ingersoll Golf Course which is my favorite.  In addition to golf, I have a lot of fun in our Downtown, North End, and Eastside districts. When I go downtown I always try to see my friends and their art at J. R. Kortman Gallery, they always have elegant galleries from local artists.  I live in the North End and a favorite spot is the Olympic Tavern, I love to grab some great food and crafts from there. And when I’m over on the East Side, I have a combination of things I like to do. I hit Rock Cut State Park for an adventure on the Pierce Lake. If I’m feeling something stylish I always put emphasis on Franchesco’s Ristorante or Alchemy.