Project First Rate launches initiative to reduce blight, diversify workforce

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- A local union and craftsman partnership is working to provide jobs, diversify the trades and reduce blight in our community. A new initiative will give people from all backgrounds the chance to revamp their careers and neighborhoods.

"When economic security is a part of one’s life, magic happens,” said executive director of Project First Rate Jake Castanza.

Rebuild Rockford is a new initiative by Project First Rate with the goal of recruiting people from a lower economic status for trade jobs.

"What we're hoping to do is give something to give hands on experience and better our community and to improve the lives of the folks who are engaging in the program,” said Castanza.

As a way to drive down the city's unemployment rate, Castanza hopes to diversify the workforce to better reflect our community.

"When you have a limited lens of what your workforce is, you're missing opportunities, innovations and making sure that workers are more productive and connected.”

Those taking advantage of the program will be taught by local tradesmen and women while working to rebuild blighted homes throughout the city.

"This is just one piece of the puzzle, a big piece of the puzzle to get these homes back to where they should be,” said third ward Alderman Chad Tuneberg.

The remodeled homes would then be sold to first responders for just the cost of materials to encourage them to live within the city.

"I mean what a great way to recruit individuals. To be able to say ‘hey, you can make a great living as a policeman or fireman and on top of that you can have a house,'” said Tuneberg.

Project First Rate hopes this new initiative will give our community a new sense of pride.

"With this, there's a huge opportunity to get someone a living wage and a wage and a job that they can be proud of and prosper from,” said Castanza.

Rebuild Rockford will be launching a social media campaign over the next few weeks driven towards specific demographics that will allow them to sign up and apply for the program. Project First Rate has invested its own money into the initiative. It hopes to create more partnerships to receive private funding in the future.