U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos visited Rockford on Monday for the first of three regional meetings she’ll hold across the 17th Congressional District to find new ways to strengthen the economy.

Bustos met with about 25 local people representing businesses large and small, local government, labor, public schools, public housing and higher education.

University of Illinois Professor James D. Oliver moderated the forum, which included small group work and time for everyone gathered to discuss priorities for education, infrastructure, transportation and other issues. Bustos, a Democrat from East Moline, took part in the discussion and took notes as local leaders described the area’s successes, struggles and goals.

“You don’t succeed in job creation, you don’t succeed in economic development — for that matter, you don’t even succeed in life — if you don’t bring people together at working toward a common solution,” Bustos said.

“This is the first step. As I stand here, I don’t have all the answers. I think people all around us, as they stand here, they don’t have all the answers. But together, that’s how we’ll come up with it.”

Local leaders stressed the importance of rail service and the Chicago-Rockford International Airport as sources of economic development. A few other ideas mentioned where widening U.S. Route 20; express bus service to connect a west

Rockford workforce to businesses on the east side; a streamlined federal grant-making process; and a regional Economic Development District that brings together Boone and Winnebago counties with their northern neighbors in Rock County, Wis., to name a few.

Bustos has similar meetings scheduled today in Peoria and on Aug. 28 in the Quad Cities. Monday’s meeting was by invitation only, but reporters were allowed inside to watch. Bustos said she wants to hold a district-wide economic summit later this fall that will be open to the public. She also said she wants people to send their ideas, be it via email, social media or phone calls to any of her five office locations.

After the economic development meeting Monday, Bustos went to JX Enterprises to shadow workers and listen to their ideas to improve the economy. JX sells and services Peterbilt trucks.

Bustos said it’s part of an occasional outreach effort to connect with working people. She’s previously shadowed workers at UPS in East Moline, Hy-Vee grocery in Silvis, G&M Distributors in Galesburg, MetroLINK mass transit in Rock Island and IBEW trainees in Rockford.

Kevin Haas: 815-987-1410; khaas@rrstar.com; @KevinMHaas