Editorial: State should invest in Rockford airport

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

It was good to hear Gov. Pat Quinn reiterate his support for Chicago Rockford International Airport, because the airport is key to the quality of life for people in the region.

The airport is ranked as the 18th-largest cargo airport in the country. UPS continues to be a major job generator with its well-run freight sorting hub.

The airport went from having no scheduled passenger service in 2003 to having nonstop flights to nine destinations this year, its most ever. New this year are direct flights to New York City and Baltimore/Washington, D.C.

In 2008, not exactly a stellar year for the U.S. economy, 194,000 passengers flew in and out of Rockford, the seventh-best year ever.

The airport is home to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest fully accredited university specializing in the aviation and aerospace industries. If you graduate from Embry-Riddle, you can get a job anywhere in the industry.

Wanxiang Group plans to build a photovoltaic solar panel assembly plant in the city-owned Logistics Park near the airport. The Airport Authority approved a deal to lease at least 100 acres to help bring the company to town. When fully built, the plant could add 240 jobs to the area.

Also new at the airport is a huge warehouse designed for air cargo companies. Executive Director Bob O’Brien will soon head to the Far East to convince Asian air cargo companies to use RFD when flying in and out of Chicagoland.

Those economic advances are great, but the airport also is a place to have fun. Thousands of people have attended the AirFest to see performances by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. You’d expect an airport to host flying entertainment, but this year you can get rocked out there, too.

The popular WXRX Wing Ding music festival moves to the airport for its one-day run May 24. It will be in the natural amphitheater in the middle of the airport grounds that used to house events when the airport was Camp Grant, a training center for thousands of soldiers in both world wars.

Airport officials do all this and keep the tax rate low. The current rate is about 9 cents per $100 of assessed value. The current budget proposal cuts the budget 1 percent from last year’s but 9 percent from actual spending levels.

The federal government understands how important the airport is to Rockford. Last week the airport received $5.3 million in economic stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The grant announcement came a day after Quinn said he wanted to build the Peotone airport “as fast as humanly possible.”

That would be 10 years, and it would take five to 10 more years before Peotone had any significant air traffic.

In the meantime, if Quinn can get his $26 billion capital plan through the Legislature, we suggest investing in existing airports such as Rockford that already provide jobs, economic development and entertainment.

In fact, we have a suggestion for the governor. Rockford’s airport is almost out of parking spaces for its customers. It needs a parking deck to handle the growing passenger traffic. The deck will cost up to $10 million.

It will be a wise investment in the future of northern Illinois, governor.

Rockford Register Star