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The Aerospace Cluster – A Thriving Economic Ecosystem

The Rockford region is home to one of America’s largest Aerospace clusters.  Over 100 manufacturers and service providers in the aerospace supply base call this region home.

These companies are collectively known for their ability to design, develop, manufacture, assemble, test and service many of the most sophisticated controls and systems in the aerospace industry.  The Rockford region is where many of the toughest aerospace challenges for efficiency and safety are solved.

Aerospace has been a robust market for the region to serve.   For years, there has been a large order backlog in the industry and heavy demand for improved performance with new generations of planes and control systems coming online.

Why Clusters Matter

In all industries and markets, much of the innovation is place-based – driven by face-to-face interactions, a network of relationships and suppliers, a common language, and the scale to create needed workforce development programs.  It also allows customers to efficiently visit and align multiple suppliers in a single trip.

Tending to a cluster – its needs and opportunities – can be rewarding for communities, too.  It can attract businesses to locate and grow here.

“Rockford is the perfect place for a company in our industry,” says Sagar Patel, President of Woodward’s Aircraft Turbine Systems business based in Rockford.  The robust local supply base “…makes our Rockford location a tremendous competitive advantage for Woodward,” he continued.

Maintaining the Cluster’s Momentum

The cluster is intentional about building its local network and aligning shared interests.  The region’s aerospace companies have formed the Rockford Area Aerospace Network (RAAN).  The Rockford Area Economic Development Council serves as a facilitator for the network.

RAAN keeps the conversations going and builds shared agendas.  Topics include building a local supply chain, education programs that benefit the cluster, and specific business development and attraction needs and opportunities.

Together these companies and the community are building on a regional asset – and leveraging it for future transformation.

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Transform Rockford announced its support for the March 20, 2018, referendum to restore home rule authority to the City of Rockford

ROCKFORD, IL. – Transform Rockford announced its support for the March 20, 2018, referendum to restore home rule authority to the City of Rockford. Leadership of the Transform Rockford movement also encourages the City’s voters to show their support for the referendum.

Why does Transform Rockford support the referendum and encourage others to support it?

  • Move authority from state to local government, where accountability and capacity is greater,
  • Accelerate the region’s transformation,
  • Publicly demonstrate our community’s desire to control its destiny. 
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Linking Talent with Opportunity

The Transform Rockford movement is about connecting people with opportunities. And we believe great opportunities exist here in the region – opportunities for residents, visitors, and investors.

The Linking Talent with Opportunity project is all about connecting residents to career pathways that lead to successful and fulfilling careers. These pathways begin in middle school when students have a chance to become familiar with careers and think about their own talents and interests. The pathways accelerate in high school when students receive education and skills that prepare them for specific higher education tracks and/or employment opportunities.

Much of the work of the Linking Talent with Opportunity project is to align those higher education tracks (which can lead to degrees, certifications or other credentials) with the high school work into a regional set of pathways for the careers needed in our 21st-century economy. The goal is to create a seamless pathway experience for the student that leads to a fulfilling career opportunity.

This will be a good test of our region’s capacity for collaboration. The work has begun with a partnership among local community colleges and high schools. Launch partners include Rock Valley College, Highland Community College, Rockford Public Schools, Harlem School District, Belvidere School District and Hononegah Community School District.

Building and filling these career pathways with the region’s talented residents will provide an important economic development tool. “There is not a more significant opportunity and no higher priority in my view than workforce development,” said Nathan Bryant, president/CEO of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.”

Funding for much of the work is coming from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, which made a three-year commitment for a total of $675,000 to make the goal a reality – its largest single commitment ever.

“(W)e see a rare and refreshing consensus among partners who have both the capacity and willingness to make change happen. Real and relevant design work has already been done, and the education partners have a plan to engage more school districts, continue design work and align with economic and workforce development partners for critical input.”

Connecting Talent with Opportunity is a significant part of the larger effort of building a top-notch workforce that attracts and grows investment, residents, and employers. Watch for other related efforts in coming months. As Doug Jensen, President of Rock Valley College and a Transform Rockford Steering Committee member, recently said, “I believe we will become a national center of workforce development excellence.”

Thank you to all of the partners joining the effort to make Linking Talent with Opportunity a success.

To learn more about the needs of the 21st-century economy, please view “Success in the New Economy” on YouTube

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Engineering Our Future

The Rockford region has long been an advanced manufacturing hub. Our region’s roots in the machine tool industry have supported our community’s evolution into a 21st-century powerhouse. In recent years, we have grown to become America’s ninth largest Aerospace hub and are now known as a place where sophisticated design, machining, and supply-chain solutions are developed for a myriad of industries.

Those Rockford area solutions are often developed by engineers. Until now, all degreed engineers had to receive their education from outside the Rockford region. And that’s where the Engineering Our Future project came in – a project that has had aggressive targets and schedules and is already delivering results.

“We reached out to Northern Illinois University and found an eager partner,” said Rock Valley College board member and R1 Planning Council Executive Director Michael Dunn, Jr. Discussions moved quickly, and the project launched in August of 2015 with the announcement of the NIU Engineering program at the RVC campus. A capital campaign launched at the same time to support the refurbishment of the Woodward Technology Center, scholarships, and programming. All told, the campaign has raised $7.5 million to date from a wide variety of community funders across the region.

The facility work moved quickly, allowing the first NIU classes to begin in August of 2016 in a fresh, well-equipped setting. NIU and RVC teams worked closely to integrate their curriculums and eliminate barriers to a smooth student transfer process. Partnerships with local businesses were built,
allowing students to have a robust set of internship and placement opportunities.

Word of the opportunity to locally obtain a high-quality 4-year engineering degree with industry integration for less than $40,000 spread quickly. RVC enrollment in engineering classes more than tripled. Staff and community members worked closely to keep the wave of new students supported and connected with local internship and employment opportunities.

The project continues to drive forward – heightening regional awareness of the program, improving connections with area high schools,
connecting students with opportunities for financial and mentoring support, and building a network of employment and technical partners.

The project holds great economic promise for the region. “Engineers are great economic drivers,” said Bob Guirl, an active community member in the Transform Rockford movement and Engineering Our Future team member. “For every 100 engineers we train and place here, we create 300 to 600 other jobs.”

The Engineering Our Future team meets for 30 minutes at 7:30 AM on Mondays. “We are learning every week,” says Sagar Patel, Engineering Our Future team member and President, Woodward Aircraft Turbine Systems. The team’s commitment is paying off. In a few months, the first of the local NIU program’s engineers will graduate – each with great local employment opportunities.

Reflecting on the spreading collaborations and breadth of career pathways being created in the region, Dunn added, “We absolutely can be a place that attracts people and companies who are looking for a great education and career-specific training. Why not? That would be my question; why not? We’re already halfway there.”

“Workforce development is a potentially game-changing opportunity, and the best part is we can write our textbook,” adds Patel.

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NIU Engineering @ RVC Wins National Award for Talent and Place Development

The nation’s leading organization for university-led economic development has chosen a partnership between Northern Illinois University (NIU) and Rock Valley College (RVC) as this year’s best example of improving a community through local talent development.  The University Economic Development Association (UEDA) has honored NIU Engineering @ RVC with an Award of Excellence for Talent and Place Development.

Now in its second year, the community-based, industry-integrated engineering program marks a new level of collaboration between higher education and industry to address a looming engineering talent shortage in the Rockford area.  Rockford area students take their first two years of engineering courses at Rock Valley College, then transition seamlessly to courses taught by NIU College of Engineering & Engineering Technology faculty on the campus of RVC.   Students gain valuable experience in paid internships with local companies and can access scholarship funds raised by Rockford area supporters of the program.

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RAEDC 2017 Annual Meeting w/ Guest Speaker Dr. Kevin Fleming

Date: November 15, 2017
Time: 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center
610 N. Bell School Rd.
Rockford, IL 61107

Register at:

The RAEDC Board of Directors and Staff are proud to welcome Dr. Kevin Fleming, producer of the viral animation video “Success in the New Economy,” and author of the bestseller, “(Re)Defining the Goal”.

Dr. Fleming is a passionate advocate for ensuring all students enter the labor market with a competitive advantage. He currently supports over 40 Career & Technical Education programs as a Dean of Instruction, CTE at Norco College (part of Riverside Community College District, California) and serves as vice president for the California Community College Association for Occupational Education. Previously, he analyzed industry trends and workforce needs while providing customized geospatial labor market research for the largest higher education system in the world: the California Community Colleges.

Dr. Fleming is a faculty member, national speaker, and recovering academic elitist. A true life-long learner, he has earned two Bachelor’s degrees from Loyola Marymount University (Psychology & Philosophy); a Master of Arts from The Ohio State University (Educational Policy & Leadership), a MBA from the University of Redlands, and a Ph.D. in Education from Claremont Graduate University…but it was his CTE industry certification in geographical information systems (GIS) that lifted him out of working poverty. He is a proud eagle scout, father, has completed 5 marathons, and won a spelling bee in the third grade.

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Improving & Strengthening Neighborhoods

The Great Neighborhoods Rockford Region project is underway. Using best practices identified by the Family & Neighborhoods spoke team, the project team partnered with three neighborhood associations to pilot the Great Neighborhoods project.  The project helps neighborhoods discovery and define their assets through in-person and online mapping tools, gaps in achieving the vision for their neighborhood, and developing actions around advocacy, doing, and branding and marketing.

The team held a press conference on Friday, October 27 and were recently highlighted by the Rockford Register Star:

The project team will spend the next few months to learn from the piloting process and begin scaling the project throughout the region Rockford starting in 2018.   To learn more about the project:


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T-Map Project; Community Safety Engagement: Rockford Police Teach Lessons On The Hardwood

ROCKFORD – “I call it community relations, community building,” said Marcus Hill, Resident Service Manager with the Rockford Housing Authority.

Hill and Rockford Police Assistant Deputy Chief Mike Dalke gave kids from the Orton Keys housing project
skills that win on the court and in life.”Teamwork, trust, you know trusting in each other, and learning how to deal with conflict,” Hill said. “Learning how to win and also learning how to lose,” he added.

The Rockford Police and the Rockford Housing Authority hosted a basketball skills camp Thursday afternoon at the District 2 police station. “We’re trying to get to the youth, trying to get to individuals who are high risk and turn them, get them going on the right paths,” said Dalke.

The goal is to point them away from the path that leads to violent crime. Just this past Wednesday night a juvenile was shot by another teen on Auburn near Grant Avenue. In June, sixteen year old Jamie Rodgers was found shot to death on Kent Street, and in late May twelve year old Donavan Ruland was murdered by a sixteen year old gunman while riding on his ATV.

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T-Map Project: Community Safety Engagement

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T-Map Project; Innovation Ecosystem: Rockford Day seeking participation of local businesses

ROCKFORD — Rockford Day invites local businesses to join in the celebration by offering 815 Rockford-themed discounts and events Aug. 15 in Rockford.

Rockford Day, playing off the city’s primary area code of 815, is a community showcase of the places, activities and people that make Rockford unique through interactive experiences.

Area businesses, agencies and organizations will feature discounts or activities, products and services throughout the day.

There is no cost to participate. For information and to register offers by July 21:

News Source:

T-Map Project: Innovation Ecosystem

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Transformational Project; Downtown Development : City approves development agreement for Rockford Conference Center

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) — It may not be long before we see construction begin on the Rockford regional convention center. This comes as Rockford’s city council gives the green light on a development agreement for the project.

With a 9-4 vote, the city council approved the development agreement with a Rockford local development corporation, which allows the company to arrange financing for the conference center.

As the Amerock hotel project moves forward the city is working with R.L.D.C. to secure a nearly $12 million conventional construction loan to build the 40 thousand square-foot conference center.

The city plans to seek new market tax credits for the project. The tax credits would help save the city money on interest payments for the project budgeted at $12.5 million.

Developer Gary Gorman has purchased space surrounding the Amerock building for the construction of the convention center which Gorman would then lease from R.L.D.C.

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T-Map Project: Downtown Development