It’s a pretty safe bet that just about any aircraft flying today has some sort of connection to Rockford.
The industry is changing, and while technology advances make aerospace safer and more efficient, the next generation of innovation will take off from Rockford.
Kelly Ortberg, Collins Aerospace’s CEO, spoke at an event to announce a major investment in the city — $50 million worth — to build a brand new lab.
“It’s not only important to folks here in Rockford, but this event is important to our company, Collins Aerospace, as well as the overall aerospace industry,” Ortberg said.
“It’s going to be the most advanced electric power lab in the world. And, we’re going to use it to develop products for the future of electric flight,” says Nate Boelkins, Collins Aerospace VP of Electric Power Systems.
Collins Aerospace has a long history in the community, going all the way back to when the facility had the Sundstrand name on it. The 25,000 square foot lab project continues its legacy, in Electric Power Systems.
“Along with the innovation capability of the people, and really giving them the tools that they need to create the next generation of innovation, to keep this business alive and in an industry-leading position for another hundred years. That’s what the grid is all about,” Boelkins said.
That’s what Collins Aerospace calls the new innovation center…”The Grid.”
Researchers there will work on electric and hybrid propulsion systems for airplanes: commercial, business, mililtary, and unmanned vehicles, like drones.
“It also means great things for the environment. Improved fuel consumption for airplanes, less noise emissions, easier build cycles,” said Boelkins. “So, it really is the next generation of flight.”
Collins Aerospace has close to 2,000 employees in Rockford, as one of the largest employers in the region.
The addition of The Grid will mean at least 50 more jobs for people like engineers, program managers, and other technical positions.
“That all is just wonderful in itself, but understanding aeronautics, and understanding the cycle of their buisiness, this is truly an investment that we will see reverberations for the next 30 to 50 years, right here, in our local economy,” said Mayor Tom McNamara.
“To the degree that we can continue to innovate and bring people into the community for advanced technology jobs, makes the whole environment better and helps create a healthy business for us,” Boelkins said.
The City of Rockford, Winnebago County, and the State of Illinois all provided incentives to Collins to build The Grid in Rockford, including tax breaks, a training grant, and a tax credit which will also be used for training.