Rockford's image has changed over the years. Keith Burd saw the change coming. He retired early after owning a trucking business for 28 years. He saw his orders slowed as manufacturing did.
"It used to be a fastener town, it used to be a cabinet town, it used to be an automotive supply town. It's none of that any more," said Burd.
Kelly Vecchio, a family law attorney, says 30 percent of her clients are unemployed and some simply opt to not use legal services because they can't afford it.
"We fluctuate with really how the economy is going. So if people can't afford, we don't have the work," said Vecchio.
Economist Fred Razazadeh says a slow manufacturing and the recession created the high unemployment rate of 19.7 percent.
"It's really the sum of these two forces that make this city and this area to suffer in a much more drastic way than many other places in the country," said Razazadeh.
ABC7 found some Rockford College students taking refuge from the recession.
"I've always wanted to continue my nursing education and become a nurse practioner, so I feel like now's the time," said Sarah Pyles, nursing major.
"Jobs are so hard and by the time I finish with law school and stuff, hopefully the economy will be better so it will be better off for me, too," said Mark Westphal, pre-law student.
Janyce Fadden, president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, says jobs are coming to area as other industries pick up.
"The machinery builders are the ones that stop first. They are also the ones that start up first as people create new products and new ideas. So typically we come out of a recession quite well based on that history," said Fadden.
Fadden urges those looking for work to stay tuned. She sees spotty hiring and expects to see a steady decline in unemployment in a year.