Manufacturing Powerhouses: Proud to be Powering the Region

What other sector can say it drives our region like manufacturing, which powers our local economy, our jobs scene, and products found all around the world? Take a look at some of these firms that are leading their industries, from right here at home.

How many industries can say they power a region, contribute to our national well-being and provide a trickle-down effect that impacts numerous small businesses across the Rockford area? None can say it and mean it quite like manufacturing.
Manufacturing alone accounts for nearly one-fifth of all jobs in the greater Rockford area, making it the region’s largest single economic sector. Add in the trade, transportations and utilities sector – services that support manufacturing and distribution – and you’re talking about close to half of the region’s workforce. No other sector touches more local jobs.
Take a look at our region’s top employers and you’ll count several manufacturers among the top 20 firms – names you’ll quickly recognize, like Fiat Chrysler, UTC Aerospace Systems, Woodward, General Mills and Bergstrom.
Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see there are more than 700 manufacturers all around our region, according to data supplied by Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC). Many firms have fewer than 100 employees, while others employ a few thousand.
Combined, these outlets are major economic engines, contributing more than $500 million in gross domestic product during 2016, according to The Workforce Connection’s regional economy and jobs report. Manufacturing is an important part of our region’s economy, and because of its ability to create solid, well-paying jobs, it’s an essential part of this region’s pathway to prosperity. And, manufacturing is an undeniable part of our national defense and a critical mechanism in our global competitiveness.
Products made in Rockford appear on every continent of Earth and in outer space. In fact, nearly 200 manufacturers in the Rockford area together export an estimated $20.65 billion a year to places all over the globe.
There was a time when the public thought of manufacturing as being grimy and suited only for the uneducated. But it’s just not the case today. Walk into any factory in our region, and you’re likely to see white walls, bright lights and floors so clean “you can eat right off them.” And take a close look at those workers. Most of them are busy programming machines capable of superior precision. It’s what separates American manufacturing from the rest of the world.
Few of the people you’ll see at these factories walked in without any experience. The generic, “unskilled” types of jobs that once dominated manufacturing are mostly gone, unlikely to return from low-wage markets abroad. From the factory floor to the front office, most of the people at work in today’s factories are employing their hard-earned credentials, whether it’s an advanced degree in engineering, a certificate for machining, or something in between.
For the nearly 200 aerospace suppliers operating within 150 miles of Rockford, skilled employment and national strength are an everyday reality. Engineers bring their advanced credentials to the table as they design components destined for military equipment and commercial aircraft – even on Mars rovers. On the factory floor, workers trained in computer-assisted manufacturing and programmable robots rely on advanced technology to produce parts built with exacting precision.
To help our region fully utilize its talented residents, our region’s educational institutions are doing their part to help build the critical workforce needed to maintain our region’s manufacturing prowess. Rock Valley College, in partnership with Northern Illinois University, now offers four-year engineering degrees to local students who want to stay in our region and contribute to its future success. These students are provided with an affordable education and a pathway to promising job prospects. RVC is also making deeper investments in its skilled manufacturing programs, helping to better prepare the workers of the future.
Rockford Public Schools has retooled its curriculum to help students discover manufacturing-related careers and develop critical skills at an early age, thus putting them in a position to graduate not only with a high school diploma, but the certifications needed to land a quality job.
Coordinated workforce development is just the beginning. The size and scope of manufacturing talent across our region serves as an important recruitment tool for new firms making the investment in our region, where you’ll find suppliers of all kinds ready to serve.
As the official magazine of the Transform Rockford movement, we’re proud to support our region’s manufacturers and the work they’re doing to power our economy. There’s a growing sense of pride among these firms, and rightly so. Through difficult economic circumstances in the past, they’ve continued to pursue new opportunities while showing pride in their work and their service to customers.
Today, with a new, lower tax structure in hand, our region is once again positioned to enjoy extraordinary growth.
In the following pages, we introduce you to some of the region’s leaders in manufacturing, representing a wide range of production, from aerospace and advanced machining to food processing and automotive, and everything in between. Their contribution to our region’s prosperity, security and identity are sure to shine.