My View: Jet-Repair Hub a Crucial Investment for Rockford Region’s Future
February 22, 2015
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  • This week presents Winnebago County and Rockford an opportunity to complete and fulfill their pledge to approve an important economic development agreement which will significantly affect the continuing transformation of our region. The intergovernmental agreement between the nation’s largest maintenance, repair and overhaul provider, AAR, and Chicago Rockford International Airport will be presented for approval to the City Council and Winnebago County Board.

    The IGA was announced in August 2014 after nearly three years of collaborative discussion and agreement by federal, state, county and city officials from the Rockford area. The task of each entity remains the same as it was when conversation began. We are grateful for the support of our partners and are ready to proceed with the work at hand.

    At its core, the IGA details the construction of a 200,000-square-foot MRO facility that is expected to operate 24 hours a day and will service next-generation, widebody aircraft. However, a closer look highlights this project as a critical investment — for the future of aerospace, of the current and incoming workforce, of business growth and development. Quite simply, for the future of our region.

    The development of the AAR hangar will fuel the region’s aerospace and aeronautics momentum. We are a prominent hub of aerospace activity and aviation manufacturing in the country, boasting more than 200 industry-specific companies and home to a critical mass of Tier 1 aerospace suppliers, including Boeing, Woodward, UTC Aerospace Systems and GE Aviation. The region’s rate of manufacturing employment is twice the national average, with more than 80 percent of Illinois’ aerospace workforce in the Rockford area.

    With the addition of AAR, our region will experience an influx of economic opportunities leading to an increase in business attraction and retention. We will be positioning ourselves to not only attract highly skilled workers, but also to decrease the “brain drain” to which our region has become all too accustomed. AAR will bring thousands of jobs to our community that will be filled with the high-quality workforce we are educating right here.

    AAR’s presence is fundamental to our ability to reap the long-term benefits of Rock Valley College’s new Aviation Maintenance Technology program, which is designed to promote economic development and position a more strongly educated and aligned workforce for our region. Graduates will be prepared to assume positions as airline or general-aviation engine and/or airframe mechanics — a perfect fit for AAR.

    This week’s votes are critical to the economic development and vitality of our region. We appreciate the efforts and commitment from all of the partners who share this vision for our region. Whether it’s planning, design or construction, we have coordinated the best of the best for this project because we genuinely believe it’s what our region deserves. We respectfully request that city and county leaders fulfill their commitments and promises to approve the AAR intergovernmental agreement, in its original form, so we can get on to the work at hand. Our future depends on it.

    Paul R. Cicero is chairman of the Chicago Rockford International Airport board of commissioners.