ROCKFORD, Feb. 26 – The three-year federal Jobs & Innovation Accelerator Challenge (JIAC) grant delivered resounding success in the expansion and clout of the Rockford Area Aerospace Cluster — assisting in significant job creation and retention, connecting small- and medium-sized companies to supply chain opportunities and raising the international stature of the cluster. JIAC grant activities branded the Rockford Region as “Mid-America’s best mid-sized international region for aerospace and aviation companies” and helped change its reputation from “an area with some aerospace companies” to “a center of aerospace excellence” with as many as 250 companies.
The successful solicitation and implementation of the JIAC grant demonstrated an unprecedented level of civic collaboration among government, education and business. The JIAC team included representatives of the NIU College of Engineering & Engineering Technology, the NIU Office of Regional Engagement-Rockford, the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, The Rockford Region Economic Development District, Rock Valley College, EIGERlab, and the Winnebago/Boone Workforce Investment Board.
“We can always do more collaboratively than we can independently,” said Dr. Rena Cotsones, associate vice president for engagement and innovation partnerships at Northern Illinois University. “The tremendous results achieved with the JIAC grant demonstrate the power of public-private partnerships in economic and workforce development.”
Other prominent companies like AAR Corp., GE Aviation, B/E Aerospace and Forest City Gear also announced significant projects in the Rockford Region. And smaller aerospace suppliers reported job growth, revenue growth and export growth as a result of grant activities, including boosts in attendance at international and domestic trade shows, regional supplier symposiums held by major aerospace companies and other events.
Over $7 Million in sales have been reported by companies participating in the State of IL sponsored Paris and Farnborough International Air Shows.
The cluster has been referenced positively in major national publications such as The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and multiple aerospace industry publications. Expansion Solutions magazine awarded JIAC partner the Rockford Area Economic Development Council a 2012 Award of Excellence – Top Five in Aerospace.
“The JIAC grant has been crucial in positioning and accelerating our region’s capability to support our most successful and high-potential industries. It has elevated, and exposed, businesses from the Rockford Region on to the global stage,” said Carrie Zethmayr, executive director – trade and investment at the RAEDC.
Background on the grant:
The grant created prosperous alignment and acceleration in four major areas: branding, product innovation, workforce pipeline and business entrepreneurship, as depicted in the aerospace growth model below:
Major educational components:
Working with JiET-A leadership and participating colleges/universities in the Rockford Region, students select their starting point and design their career pathway to their chosen professional destination. High-quality internships are integrated with academic curriculum so that when students graduate, they enter the aerospace industry with valuable, and marketable, skills and experience. Program accomplishments include creating a pipeline of nearly 150 aspiring interns with more than 30 employed in integrated internships and 10 students hired thus far.
Another academic program that facilitated success for engineering students is the JIAC Rockford Aerospace Engineering Program. This program expedites a student’s progression from Rock Valley College engineering student to NIU engineering degree student; 62 students have participated in this program.
NIU has successfully placed eight engineering students from its Engineers-In-Residence Program at four Rockford Area Aerospace Network companies, resulting in accelerated product advancement of high tech materials and control systems. Also the EIGERlab, the region’s business incubator and product development center, assisted 119 companies with prototype fabrication using its 3D additive manufacturing equipment over the past three years.
JIAC has complemented other major federal investments in the Rockford Area. These include a U.S. EDA grant to rebuild roads around Chicago Rockford International Airport and FAA grants to expand the airport, as well as two EDA-funded plans – a Strategic Diversification Plan and a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy – that each identify strategies for further growing aerospace and related high-growth, innovative industries.
FOR MORE INFORMATION