Our nation’s economy has been through plenty of ups and downs over the past two years, but through it all manufacturers have continued their steady march onward – and in Rockford, that means we’re leading the way to recovery.
Local manufacturers are finding themselves in an unusual situation. Orders continue streaming in and clients are upbeat about the future. But at the same time, raw materials are slow to ship and good workers are hard to find.
Add it all up and you have an economy with plenty of potential but some short-term challenges. Yet these are challenges the Rockford area is uniquely poised to solve. In a town where nearly one-fifth of all jobs revolve around manufacturing, and another 21.5% involve the logistics firms that get product to market, our region is ground zero for America’s recovery.
Into the Depths
The past two years have been a whirlwind for businesses of all kinds as they navigate an ever-changing landscape brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. From the earliest days of Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s lockdowns, manufacturers have kept churning out product.
Labeled as “essential businesses,” they never experienced the interruptions endured by other area employers, particularly those in hospitality settings. When local producers did experience shutdowns or slowdowns, the culprit was typically one of two situations: materials were stuck in transit or workers were ill and on quarantine.
“My experience with manufacturers is that they’ve been very diligent about keeping their doors closed and not accepting people in the office except those who needed to perform tasks within the facility,” says Einar Forsman, CEO of Greater Rockford Growth Partnership. “I’m sure more than a few took advantage of the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) to have continuity in their operations.”
When the Rockford area’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to 22.5% in April 2020, nearly all industries took a hit, according to data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
Retailers lost nearly 15% of their workforce in those early months. Though the sector rebounded quickly, hospitality businesses, including hotels and restaurants, took a serious hit. They shed nearly 7,000 workers – about 42.86% of their total workforce – and it’s taken nearly two years to recover those employment levels.
Manufacturing has faced an uneven road to recovery. Between March and April 2020, Rockford-area producers shed nearly 2,500 workers – about 8.6% of their total workforce – and they lost another 2,000 workers the following spring when shortages in microchips ground Belvidere’s Stellantis plant (formerly known as Chrysler) to a halt.
While Stellantis’s work stoppage was the most pronounced in our region, it wasn’t alone. According to a study by Rockford Area Economic Development Corporation, supply chain issues have been a headache for almost every American manufacturer over the past two years. The study measured manufacturing conditions in March 2020, March 2021 and January 2022.
“In March 2020, the question was posed: are you experiencing supply chain disruptions? And 70% said yes in March 2020, 80% said yes in March 2021, and 87% said yes this January,” says Forsman.
He adds that, while he’s seen the same trend locally, the causes are harder to pinpoint.
“I have to assume it’s from microchip development and delayed cargo deliveries that are holding up getting product to where it needs to be,” Forsman says. “There are many industries that still depend on China as a supplier, and that’s been a very lagging issue. I think their own COVID protections have slowed down that development and led to a backlog of shipping containers.”
What’s even more troubling for local manufacturers is a shortage of skilled labor. Not only are longtime workers retiring at a fast rate, but there aren’t enough replacements with the right mix of machining and other skills.
“I talked to a company in town that runs a pretty large CNC operation, and what they’re seeing is that their machine operators are earning more than their engineers in many cases because of the number of hours and demand they’re putting upon these people,” says Forsman.
Surprisingly, it’s not a new condition.
“In our region, at least, we had several thousand jobs that were going unfilled before COVID even came to our community,” says Forsman. “It’s been a struggle to get the skilled labor, skilled workforce and people with job readiness. Sometimes, issues like background checks can cause a problem, but leading into 2019, I’d guess we had probably 3,000 jobs going unfilled.”
This is an advantageous time for young people. Rockford Public Schools and Rock Valley College have spent much of the past decade aligning curriculum to engage young people and working adults who want to enter manufacturing.
Jessica Hayes, work-based learning coordinator for Rockford Public Schools, is working with many area manufacturers and other employers to improve the talent pipeline with job shadowing, internships and in-school curriculum.
“There’s a ‘now hiring’ sign on every other corner in Rockford right now,” she says. “Our employers, anywhere from education to manufacturing to public safety, are all trying to find people to come and work. You can’t always bring them from outside the community, so why can’t we grow our own right here?”
Dual credit opportunities are earning students working credentials while they’re still in high school, and RVC is taking a critical role in helping working adults to earn apprenticeships and certificates in high-demand fields like advanced machining, truck driving or cold head manufacturing. RVC’s new Advanced Technology Center is poised to start training the next generation of workers. But, there’s a caveat.
“Ironically, Rock Valley College is hurt by the supply chain as well,” says Forsman. “That’s slowed their opening of the ATC.”
Starting this fall, the center is expected to train workers for high-demand fields while also helping employers to upskill existing talent. The facility was supposed to open last fall, but equipment delays have postponed its grand opening.
“I had a chance to tour the facility a couple of times, and it’s a great plan,” says Forsman. “It’ll probably outgrow itself in a very short time, but the key is getting the types of machines and things they need to have in place.”
As much as local employers need people with the right skill set, they’re also struggling to find people with the right attitude. Forsman has heard from many employers that showing up is half the battle.
“There’s this phenomena where people apply for jobs and interview for jobs and receive job offers and accept them, but they never show up for work,” he says.
The effect isn’t limited just to manufacturers – it’s all across the board.
“I saw an accounting firm that said in a two- or three-week period they made two or three new hires, and only one actually showed up,” says Forsman. “That person worked for half a day and then left.”
Optimism for the Road Ahead
Challenges notwithstanding, there’s still plenty of optimism about what’s ahead. According to the RAEDC survey, 94% of manufacturers believe they’re trending upward and can sustain an unexpected hit to their revenue. Additionally, about a quarter of them said they’re planning to expand.
“If you have a lot of employees and took advantage of the PPP or employee retention tax credits, there’s a lot of relief available that can put cash in the business,” says Forsman. “Some may have held onto that cash or invested it into the business right away. Based on what they’re saying about their viability, they’ve put themselves in a strong position.”
Rockford-area manufacturers have been slow to announce new construction projects, but firms like Hennig and Ingersoll are taking full advantage of recent expansions. There’s also talk of Stellantis one day shifting to electric vehicles, spurred by recent legislative incentives.
“I’m hopeful that’s going to yield something for this region,” says Forsman.
Chicago Rockford International Airport, meanwhile, continues to surge ahead on e-commerce and international cargo as the nation’s 17th largest cargo airport.
Last year, the airport set new records in its cargo service, handling more than 3.4 billion pounds of goods – a 25% improvement from the year before, which also was a record-setter. Rockford delivered as much tonnage last year as New York’s JFK Airport – the 11th largest by cargo – handled in 2020.
Logistics, in general, remains a growth opportunity in the years ahead, Forsman says, and local leaders are pushing the Interstate 39 corridor because of its wide-open spaces and easy access to transportation networks. In an era when competition is fierce over existing facilities, having the right offering makes all the difference.
“While there are plenty of shovel-ready sites, they’re not of the size that’s needed,” says Forsman. When you talk logistics, you’re looking for large footprints. If you’re looking at I-39, you have shovel-ready land, but do you have land that’s of a size that you can build a large hub there?”
For now, growing aerospace companies and manufacturers continue to lead the way in Rockford’s ongoing recovery.
“You’ve seen around the community some business that have continued to thrive and expand in the manufacturing sector,” says Forsman. “I think there are small business owners in certain industries that are doing just fine, while some others in restaurant and hospitality are being more cautious. They’re still waiting for a better sense of what’s coming down the road.”
What’s Happening Across State Lines
Illinois and Wisconsin have taken different approaches to mitigating COVID-19, but the economic effect of the pandemic looks familiar on both sides of the state line.
“The initial two months of COVID were especially challenging for our community,” says Jen Hall, President/CEO of Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation and development director for the City of Beloit. “Our manufacturing base was considered a core service, so they were able to stay open. However, our service industry certainly took a significant hit and is still recovering today.”
The leisure/hospitality sector in Beloit and Janesville lost nearly 3,000 workers in those early months of the pandemic, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. By mid-2021, employment had not only recovered but surpassed pre-COVID levels.
“The Beloit community truly rallied together during this time to support small businesses in any way they could,” adds Hall.
For manufacturers, the overall effect of COVID was much smaller. In the Beloit-Janesville area, they lost about 1,000 jobs in April 2020 – about 10% of all jobs in the sector – but by year’s end they had returned to pre-COVID levels, according to the BLS.
And by December 2021, all Beloit-Janesville area employers had bounced back enough that the unemployment rate measured just 2.3% – a rate far exceeding the 4% recorded just before the pandemic and the 17.4% recorded at its start.
Add onto it actual growth in the size of Rock County’s labor force, and there’s a lot of opportunity in Beloit.
Manufacturers are busier than ever, says Hall, and Beloit’s economy is feeling the effects.
An Amazon warehouse in the Gateway Business Park continues shipping packages with ever more speed. Spray Tek, a leader in specialty ingredient processing for food, nutritional, pharmaceutical, beauty care and household products, is building a 75,000-square-foot facility with plans to hire 50 people. Meanwhile, the Ho-Chunk Nation is preparing to break ground on a destination resort and casino near Interstate 90.
In all, the region saw more than $1.6 billion in capital investments last year, according to the Rock County Development Alliance. Hall sees no sign of progress stopping soon.
“The City of Beloit and Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation are expecting to have another year of growth,” says Hall.
While manufacturing employment continues to exceed pre-pandemic levels, Hall and others are keeping their eye on the employment situation. A tight and competitive labor market is leading to creative solutions for recruiting and retaining workers.
To ensure future stability in employment, in February 2021 Blackhawk Technical College collaborated with local manufacturers, educators, economic development experts and other leaders in Rock County to form the Stateline Manufacturing Alliance. In part, this group of nearly 40 local producers and educators is forming a pipeline of talent to better recruit youths and working adults into manufacturing careers.
“We’re focusing on initiatives and activities that will expand the manufacturing pipeline efforts in this region,” says Colleen Koerth, Manager-Workforce Development at Blackhawk Technical College.
Hall believes the employment question is the biggest challenge but also the biggest opportunity going into the future.
“We truly want to see our residents here obtaining family-supporting positions,” says Hall. “We will use all of our available resources to help train and develop our workforce.”
Powering the State Line Area’s Recovery
It’s hard to ignore the power manufacturing has on our region, and not only because one in every five of our neighbors works in industry. In every corner of our region, you’ll find factories producing goods that travel all around the world and beyond.
From massive objects to tiny components, and brand names both familiar and obscure, locally made goods land in many surprising locations. Find pieces made in the Rockford region on green tractors, yellow earthmovers, school buses and Mars rovers. Find food made in Rockford and Beloit at your local grocery store. Find machine tools and manufacturing equipment inside many factories here and around the globe. Find technology and engineering from Rockford and Beloit in some of the world’s most sophisticated airplanes. And the list goes on.
Concentrated in our region’s industrial parks, you’ll find many surprising manufacturers working together for mutual benefit. Inside the Eastrock Industrial Park, on Rockford’s southeast side, nearly 100 companies – many of them still family-owned – are tapping into their neighbors’ expertise, skills and services as they support clients around the Midwest and beyond. The story is similar in many other industrial parks nearby.
Not only are our region’s manufacturers powerhouses in production, but they’re also dedicated employers, innovators and community servants. Indeed, you’ll find many manufacturers giving back to their community in myriad ways, their generosity helping to transform our community.
Manufacturing sustains our local economy, and its recent boom in activity is helping to feed our economy by delivering stable new jobs, engaging our construction trades and feeding the many other critical services – education, health care, retail – that their workers and families depend upon.
Indeed, manufacturing is the lifeblood of our region and a much-deserved source of pride, as exemplified by the companies in these following pages.
984 Ipsen Road, Cherry Valley, Ill. | 325 John St., Pecatonica, Ill. | (800) 727-7625
From a broken pottery kiln to a world leader in industrial furnaces, Ipsen remains committed to pushing the bounds of innovation.
It was 1948 when the kiln used by Harold Ipsen’s wife broke down. Rather than buy a new one, the engineer built his own. Soon, friends and acquaintances started asking him to build a kiln for them, too, but Ipsen realized his new creation could have far more impact if applied to the business of heat treating steel.
Almost 75 years later, the company started by Ipsen is a global manufacturer of thermal processing solutions, providing the design, manufacture, service and retrofitting/modernization of vacuum furnaces. In addition, Ipsen leads the industry with technical developments in supervisory control systems and predictive maintenance software platforms. Ipsen’s work exists in more than 60 countries and more than 10,000 systems still in operation today. Most have been running for decades.
Ipsen’s work remains valuable to a wide range of industries, including aerospace, automotive, commercial heat treating, energy, medical, and tool-and-die manufacturing. The reliability Ipsen brings to its customers stems from its loyal employees, who have an average tenure of 10 years, with some even reaching the 40 to 45-year mark before retirement.
After a consultative sales process is complete, each custom furnace is designed by engineers with expertise in mechanics, electronics and software. They’re supported by a purchasing team and project managers who communicate with clients and keep each job on schedule and within budget. The production team flexes its expertise in skills like assembly, welding, electrical systems and quality inspection.
“Our employees are the reason behind how Ipsen can provide both world-class equipment and critical aftermarket support, enabling our customers to outperform and outlast their competition,” says Patrick McKenna, who has served as Ipsen USA’s President & CEO for the past five years.
What also sets Ipsen apart is the work that comes after a new furnace is installed. Ipsen’s new Chief Service Officer, John Dykstra, oversees a robust and growing team that’s dedicated to post-sale customer support. Field engineers and technicians are positioned worldwide to provide remote diagnostics, retrofits and modernizations, timely repairs, and quality replacement parts whenever and wherever they’re needed.
Although Ipsen furnaces are recognized around the world, the company remains loyal to its hometown of Cherry Valley, Ill., procuring as many parts locally as possible and recruiting skilled talent from the region. Ipsen prides itself on its longstanding commitment to develop and promote from within. It also provides robust benefits to retain the best talent. In these times of supply chain issues and tight labor force, these qualities make all the difference.
Harold Ipsen tragically died in a plane crash in 1965, but his legacy has lived on with his company, which holds more than 100 granted global patents. The organization maintains a global footprint with locations in China, Germany, India, Japan and the United States.
Forest City Gear
11715 Main St. | Roscoe, Ill. | forestcitygear.com
In an industry as old as mechanics, Forest City Gear, in Roscoe, Ill., remains at the forefront of gear technology and precision manufacturing.
For more than six decades, this family-owned firm has made a specialty of producing high-quality gears using the most powerful cutting-edge tools available. Each month, nearly 70,000 gears ship out from the production center.
Boasting technical certifications including AS9100, ISO 9100:2008, and ISO 13485:2003, Forest City Gear remains committed to a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, transportation, medical/dental, defense, recreation and food production.
Perhaps its most famous components no longer reside on planet Earth; Forest City Gear components exist on the International Space Station as well as the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity Rovers on Mars. Forest City Gear produced more than 70 gears for Curiosity’s mobility and drilling operations. The firm was also chosen to produce parts for the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet in February 2021.
The experienced team at Forest City Gear is skilled in a number of production methods, including gear hobbing and carbide re-hobbing, gear shaping, grinding, CNC machining and engineering. Not surprisingly, these jobs require specialized knowledge of metal fabrication in extremely tight tolerances. Aerospace is a common starting point for many.
To keep its team at the forefront of technology, Forest City Gear supports continuous training with industry leaders. And, it’s developing the next generation of gearmakers by providing summer internships to high school and college students. It’s also planning a vocational internship for qualified students in Hononegah High School’s special education program.
The firm has set aggressive growth targets for the coming year and expects to hire for numerous positions, including manufacturing process engineers, cost estimators and CNC machinists specializing in gear cutting.
It’s not just people but equipment that sets Forest City Gear apart from its competitors. For years, the company has made a practice of reinvesting between 25 and 40 percent of its revenues into new technologies, obtaining tools like hobbers, shapers and thread grinders from top-notch producers in the U.S., Italy, Japan and Germany.
Forest City Gear was founded in 1955 by Stetler and Evelyn Young. Stetler put to work his experience at a gear producer in Sterling, Ill., and built the company with personal loans, the support of a former customer and refurbished equipment. Their son, Fred, got an early start in the business as he ran machines to make basketball hoop winch winders and home ice cream makers. He joined the company full-time after attending college and serving in the Navy.
Fifty years later, Fred is chairman of his family’s company, serving alongside his wife, Wendy, company president and CEO, and daughter Kika, Director of Corporate Management.
Forest City Gear remains active in the community, donating time and resources to many nonprofit groups, both national and local in scope, including the Blackhawk Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the American Gear Manufacturers Association, Rockford Rescue Mission and Rockford University.
“Our tagline is ‘Excellence without Exception,’” says CEO Fred Young. “However, we are glad to be part of the tremendous group of manufacturers in the state line area who keep Midwestern America at the forefront of manufacturing high-quality products that end up all over the world.”
7550 Quantum Court | Machesney Park, Ill. | quantumdi.com
For more than 35 years, Quantum Design has been providing control systems integration services to the Midwest, with a heavy focus on the northern Illinois region. With five unique product lines all designed and manufactured in a 100,000-square-foot facility in Machesney Park, Ill., Quantum has grown significantly since its early days.
Quantum has faced many challenges over the decades, but few have compared with the challenges of today’s labor shortage. “It’s not even a lack of qualified employees, but a lack of candidates in general,” says Danny Pearse, president of Quantum Design. “I can’t quite recall ever having this much trouble finding help.”
Pearse founded Quantum Design in 1986 as an electrical engineering firm. Within months, the company added a control panel fabrication shop. Now, the firm is recognized as a leading control systems integrator. Over the years, Quantum has acquired four additional product lines that help it to reach a variety of industries including labels, packaging, food, beverage, steel, aerospace and more.
In 2019, Quantum Design consolidated four separate locations into a brand-new, fully air-conditioned facility in Machesney Park. “Moving to one location was the right decision for us,” says Angie Ostler, vice president of finance and marketing. “It reduced expenses, generated a team environment, boosted morale and created efficiencies throughout the company.”
Since moving, Quantum has seen additional growth, but the challenge of finding new workers is limiting the firm’s potential, leaders say. This story is not unique. Companies and businesses all over this region, and the U.S., are asking the same question: What happened to all of the workers we had prior to COVID-19?
“We used to receive dozens of quality resumes when posting a job. Now, we are lucky to get one or two,” Ostler says. “HR is exploring all opportunities, career fairs, job boards, staffing agencies and more, but we are not seeing the response we need.”
Even attending job fairs is proving to be difficult. A recent job fair Quantum attended expected over 500 people, but only 12 to 15 people actually attended.
Quantum is currently looking to fill around a dozen positions, many for the manufacturing department. These roles include Machine Builders, Electrical Assemblers, Machinists and Quality Controllers. There are also a few engineering positions available, including Junior Control Systems Engineer, a position well-suited for a recent or upcoming graduate.
Machine Builder is a unique position that is hard to fill because the right candidate may not realize they are qualified, says Ostler. The right candidate could have previous experience building equipment in a manufacturing environment, but that isn’t a requirement of the job. What Quantum really needs is someone with a mechanically driven mind. Someone who likes working with their hands, can read prints, enjoys tinkering in their garage, does construction or enjoys working on cars could be a potential fit.
Motivated, hard-working individuals with a willingness to learn is what Quantum is truly looking for, and leaders say they’re open to training candidates who have little to no experience.
“We are looking to grow the company and offer growth opportunities to those willing to learn,” says Derek Wheeler, vice president of sales. Wheeler started in the Shipping and Receiving department and is now on the leadership team. “The right individual can grow and learn new skills; they just have to be motivated.”
Scott Kline, Control Systems Engineer, appreciates the opportunities he’s been given to grow in his career. “As someone who had more of a troubleshooting background and not a lot of design experience, I appreciate the patience and guidance my manager and senior staff have given me to advance my career,” he says.
Kline has been with the company for 10 years; he started in an entry-level position and moved through the ranks. Many current employees, including Kline, also say they appreciate the “family-oriented and laid-back” atmosphere Quantum strives to provide.
Quantum Design leaders are hopeful that, over the next few months, the right candidates will step up.
“We want to continue to grow our company and be a leader in the manufacturing world,” says Ostler. “We just need to find the right people to grow with us.”
To learn more about Quantum Design and view open positions, visit quantumdi.com.
Bergstrom Climate Control Systems
2390 Blackhawk Road | Rockford | bergstrominc.com
Bergstrom was founded in Rockford in July 1949 to design and build “heaters” for trucks, buses and off-highway equipment. Today, 73 years later, the company has facilities in Rockford, the U.K., Spain, India, China and Mexico, where it produces state-of-the-art climate systems for over-the-road trucks, construction machines, agricultural machines, military equipment, low-volume sport cars, recreational vehicles, postal trucks and personal off-road vehicles.
In 1995, Bergstrom began researching HVAC systems to produce warm and cool air for sleeper cabs of over-the-road trucks when the engine was off. This product came to market in 2002 and today is found on all of the major truck builders in the United States, as well as many trucks in Europe. Rockford is a major builder of these products. In addition to HVAC products, Bergstrom today is a major supplier of cooling coils to the commercial refrigeration industry and other non-vehicle markets.
Bergstrom has a code of business conduct in every facility that addresses how all workers are to interact with each other. It begins with showing mutual respect to everyone. This Code, which was developed in the late 1980s, involved the input of Rockford team members from all work disciplines.
Work skills matter to every part of the Bergstrom team. Through Bergstrom’s “Mastery” program, employees can learn about the company and become experts in their department. Each time a worker earns a Mastery, they receive a pay increase.
Team members at all facilities are encouraged to make their communities better places. Donating time and resources to organizations such as CASA, Goodwill and Rockford Rescue Mission presents a win-win for employees and these nonprofit organizations.
Sponsorship of the Bergstrom Quiz Bowl for the past eight seasons has been a success for the greater Rockford area, as this televised program showcases those students in the community who are doing very well academically.
More than 450 people support Bergstrom’s Rockford headquarters and aftermarket center, but the company maintains a global network of employees, all strategically located near the production centers of major international clients.
Obsidian Manufacturing Industries, Inc.
5015 28th Ave. | Rockford | (815) 962-8700 | obsidianmfg.com
Obsidian Manufacturing Industries is a woman-led, SBA-certified business with four brands that together specialize in building and repairing machine tool products. Magna-Lock USA workholding products, Arter Precision Grinding Machines, MagnaLift & Power-Grip lift magnets and ObsidianMfg Surface Grinding all work under the same roof.
“If anyone is working with steel, we’re there,” says Sue Nordman, president of Obsidian Manufacturing Industries. “Our lift magnets are lifting it, our workholding products are holding it, and our grinders are grinding it. Our vacuum-holding can also hold non-magnet material, so what we do even goes beyond steel.”
The company originally started as Magna-Lock USA in 2007, when Sue and David Nordman, Obsidian’s vice president, purchased the brand. The MagnaLift and Power-Grip lift magnet brands were acquired by Magna-Lock USA in 2010, giving the company the ability to offer a full spectrum of lifting needs. With the acquisition of Arter Precision Grinding Machines in 2018, the company rebranded to Obsidian Manufacturing and took on the manufacture of new CNC models and OEM spare parts and repair services for all Arter grinding machines. The growth continued in 2019 when Obsidian moved its headquarters to the former location of Stieg Grinding Corp., which was also absorbed into the Obsidian family.
All in all, the brands under Obsidian combine for over 300 years of manufacturing history, with each brand being a forerunner in its respective product line. Obsidian’s products are used on manufacturing floors the world over, in a multitude of industries, including aerospace, agriculture, automotive, medical and pharmaceutical. And Obsidian continues pushing forward in new markets, including the production of electric vehicles.
The company’s location in Rockford gives Obsidian the ability to ship parts across the country quickly and easily. Despite logistical challenges created by the pandemic, supply chain issues, and shortages in the trucking industry, getting the product to the customer remains a top priority.
As Obsidian continues to grow, the company is keeping a close eye on the future of manufacturing, an industry that is expected to grow by almost 5 million jobs over the next 10 years. To show commitment to the advancement of skilled manufacturing personnel, the firm offers an educational institution discount to schools and programs that train their students using Obsidian products.
The biggest difference-maker, however, is Obsidian’s wide range of clientele.
“Our ability to work with small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike gives us experience and exposure in a lot of different areas,” says Nordman.
Brands big and small have found value in Obsidian’s latest product release: a new lift magnet, the LB-7Gx2. A combination of two LB-7G units, this new product can lift as much as 14,000 pounds.
“Custom design workholding and lift magnets are becoming somewhat of a specialty of ours,” says Nordman. “We make things people need that they can’t find anywhere else.”
3019 Eastrock Court | Rockford | (815) 397-9707 | ewt3dcnc.com
EWT/3DCNC is a medium-sized precision machine shop with an emphasis on EDM (electrical discharge machining), high-speed machining, 5 axis machining, and design and build of molds, dies and fixturing. The company operates two facilities in the region, one in Eastrock Industrial Park and the other in nearby Loves Park, Ill.
Founded in 1974, the company, then known as EWT Inc., was the first EDM contract machine shop in the area and was designed to service tool and die shops. In 2003, the company merged with 3DCNC Technologies, a 3-D machining and modeling company. Five years ago, the company purchased another shop dedicated to machining and grinding aerospace components.
“What sets us apart is our diversity,” says Jim Monge, president of EWT/3DCNC. “Although we have a job shop atmosphere, we do work for all different industries, with lot sizes from one-of-a-kind to multi-year, long-term agreements.”
That diversity includes state-of-the-art wire and conventional EDM services as well as jig grinding, high-speed machining, aerospace manufacturing, design and build of molds and dies, and 3-D modeling.
“Typically, when we talk to our customers about the work we do for them, they always say that, when they have something tough that they can’t do themselves, they bring it to us,” says Doug Mason, vice president of EWT/3DCNC. “They know we can do it and do it right.”
This sentiment is further endorsed by a recent aerospace audit where customers scored the company in areas like overall satisfaction, quality of work, on-time delivery and communication. EWT/3DCNC scored 99.8%.
Additionally, the company is a stocking distributor for a full array of EDM wires and electrodes, machine replacement parts, filters, and resin for resale to other EDM contract manufacturers.
“We use the same products we sell, so we are confident of the quality of the products we are selling to our customers,” says Monge.
“EWT/3DCNC has managed consistent year-over-year growth by hiring and retaining excellent employees, purchasing and maintaining state-of-the-art equipment, and serving a wide variety of industries,” adds Monge. “We continue to explore new areas of growth and look forward to what the future holds.”
Accelerated Machine Design & Engineering LLC
3044 Eastrock Court | Rockford | (815) 316-6381
With a focus on global competition, Accelerated Design & Engineering provides simple solutions to complex manufacturing and engineering challenges. Between its 35 employees, the company boasts more than 500 years of combined experience in providing breakthrough technologies and innovations in the fields of defense, aerospace, energy, pharmaceutical, life sciences, biotech, agriscience, off-highway and precision equipment.
The company provides a spectrum of services, including engineering, design-builds, manufacturing, electrical cabinet and panel build services, test and verification, and repair. More than just a specialist in engineering, this firm also handles assembly and manufacturing, offering clients complete machine builds for mechanical, electrical, pneumatic and hydraulic systems. Product assembly services include circuit board installation, firmware installation, wiring, labels and adhesive application. Clients trust Accelerated Design & Engineering as an aerospace-quality manufacturer that delivers custom-designed and -built mission-critical parts in accelerated timeframes.
The team has designed and built numerous innovative products, including synthetic reactors to automate early-stage drug discovery for pharmaceutical companies; electromagnetic proton therapy systems for cancer treatment; low-cost solar systems for low-orbit satellite systems; and revolutionary boom designs to clean up oil spills.
All of these products are built in Rockford using state-of-the-art technology, with an average asset age of three years for all of the equipment in its shop.
Circle Boring & Machine Company
3161 Forest View Road | Rockford | (815) 398-4150 | circleboring.com
More than just a job shop, Circle Boring & Machine Co. serves many markets that require precision boring, milling and turning. This contract machining company has more than 60 years of experience in the field, and its cutting-edge equipment is capable of working parts as big as 40,000 pounds or as long as 20 feet. CNC vertical lathes can turn parts that are more than 5 feet long, and six bridge cranes in four bays make it possible to handle some of the biggest parts. At the same time, though, Circle Boring also has the ability to turn parts so small they fit in the palm of your hand.
Its work is most often found in the automotive sector, mining equipment, stamping presses, machine tools and renewable energy production – settings where unique, custom-machined parts are critical. The company’s skills are also critical for repairing equipment, like the giant shredders you’d find at a rock quarry or the pumps you’d see around the New Orleans levees. Clients are located around the nation, even in Canada and Mexico.
Sister company Circle Cutting Tools, also headquartered in Rockford, makes many of the machining tools that drive Circle Boring. The company’s adjustable boring cartridges work with DeVlieg boring machines, machining centers and jig bores, and it carries a line of indexable insert and brazed carbide cartridges built upon years of experience and research.
Circle Boring & Machine Co. started in 1961, and it remains a family-owned company working in Rockford’s Eastrock Industrial Park where it enjoys easy access to Interstate 90, Chicago Rockford International Airport, and a host of advanced manufacturing firms with a long heritage in our region.
“If you want to make something, we have the workers and infrastructure to do it,” says John Ekberg, vice president. “We’re ready to make things happen.”
Shaner Quality Machining
4935 28th Ave. | Rockford | (815) 967-1627
For 16 years, Mike Shaner has been operating Shaner Quality Machining, a small-job machining shop that specializes in the needs of the automation industry.
“We can make just about anything, but I love to go after work in the automation industry,” he says. “That’s my background. I spent 20 years building custom, automated machinery.”
As a smaller shop, Shaner’s firm focuses on short-run jobs, which often come in smaller or single batches.
“That’s our niche: making single, one-off pieces for automation houses,” he says. Prior to setting up his 8,000-square-foot shop in Rockford’s Eastrock Industrial Park, Shaner operated punch presses and worked as a die setter for General Power. By keeping his operation small, Shaner keeps turnaround times low, something his clients appreciate. Fast turnaround is one of Shaner’s highest priorities, as well as making sure his clients have a square deal.
“I treat people fairly,” he says. “That’s the name of the game.”
His past and present client list includes firms of all sizes. Shaner’s honest approach and focus on quality make him a sought-after machinist.
“I keep my shop state-of-the-art,” he says. “I only buy the latest and greatest. My name is on every part I make. I take pride in what comes out of my shop. I want it to look nice and work correctly.”
Cincinnati Tool Steel Co.
5190 28th Ave. | Rockford | (815) 226-8800 | cintool.com
Founded in 1976 by the late Ronald F. Cincinnati, this family-owned steel distributor is still firmly rooted to Rockford and the Eastrock Industrial Park, where it’s served for more than 45 years. The company maintains sister facilities near Powell, Tenn., and West Columbia, S.C.
Cincinnati Tool Steel Co. plays a critical role in supplying manufacturers with the steel they need to build other products. As a full-line tool steel distributor, the firm sells round bar and plate steel that’s cut to customers’ specifications. Cincinnati Tool Steel Company also offers an array of value-added services such as precision grinding, hollow bar, duplex milling for six-side machined blocks, and plate milling. These services are usually done before being heat-treated or hardened. Such steel is ideal for the tool and die industry, hand tools and machine tools, among other applications. For a full list of services and materials available, check cintool.com.
Rockford’s central location to major markets and easy access to major highways make this region ideal for distributing goods like tool steel. It also helps that the city remains a manufacturing powerhouse with many legacy companies.
In fact, it was that concentration of fastener production and tool-and-die work that led Ronald F. Cincinnati to launch his own business in the 1970s. Today, Ronald F.’s children – Ron J., Brian, Scot and Kelli – continue their father’s legacy. The firm is still in its original building, though it’s since sprawled into six surrounding buildings and two facilities in the southern U.S.
“A lot of local, family-owned businesses like the fact that we’re locally owned,” says Ron J., vice president of sales. “We’re second-generation and there are lots of companies in town that are second- or third-generation owners, and I think they appreciate that we’ve still maintained 180 workers. It’s a big part of doing business in Rockford – there’s plenty here and there are lots of customers that rely on us.”
Guide to Commercial Building Services
The Rockford region is on a rebound, and business owners are seizing opportunity wherever they can.
Downtown Rockford is coming to life with new businesses and tourist attractions. Major manufacturers are expanding their plants and introducing new product lines. Our educational institutions and government agencies are investing in our workforce, developing the skills needed to be successful in the 21st century.
Over the past decade, billions of dollars have been invested in capital projects across the Rockford area – everything from manufacturing centers and schools to grocery stores, roads and live/work structures downtown.
The formerly vacant Amerock/Ziock building is now a glistening new hotel, and Urban Equity Properties continues its redevelopment along South Main Street, on either end of the hotel. Rock Valley College is opening a new center for training workers, a casino is coming, and Rockford Public Library is preparing to build a brand-new riverside facility.
Beloit, meanwhile, has welcomed a new baseball stadium for the city’s redubbed baseball team, the SkyCarp. Over the past decade, downtown has welcomed many new structures and renovated historical properties, including a luxurious new hotel. New additions, such as a 1 million-square-foot Amazon distribution center, new manufacturers, and new health care developments, signal a city on the rise.
Wherever your business stands in this postpandemic economic recovery, sooner or later you may find it’s time to begin planning an expansion for your own firm. If you’re looking to stretch out your current space or establish a new location (or locations), you’ll need a little help erecting the perfect structure.
For a ground-up project, you’ll need the help of a talented architectural firm and interior designer – experts who recognize what it takes to craft just the right facility for your industry. Then, you’ll need the help of skilled contractors, carpenters, electricians, roofers and plumbers to build a skeleton before skilled trade workers assemble all of the finishes and details inside. Along the way, you may need a help from your banker, as well.
Of course, our region boasts a wide selection of beautiful old buildings, long neglected and ready for some tender loving care. To restore these enduring structures and bring them into the 21st century, you’ll need experts who understand historical properties and their quirks.
We encourage and support economic growth, so to help you plan for your own expansion, now and in the future, this annual guide shares information on some of the region’s top-notch firms for construction and contracting. They bring with them many years of proven experience and generations of satisfied clients.
They’re just the sorts of advisers whose expertise is most appreciated in the flurry of activity surrounding your next building project. They know what it takes to get the job done.
Rockford Heating & Air Conditioning
1618 Magnolia St. | Rockford, IL | (815) 965-9494 | rockfordheating.com
Setting the right environment means everything to a business, and at Rockford Heating & Air Conditioning, we know just what it takes to keep things comfortable.
A full-service Heating, Ventilation & Cooling (HVAC) firm, Rockford Heating serves a wide variety of heating and cooling needs for commercial, industrial and residential customers. Our expertly trained union technicians are skilled at installing equipment, building and installing duct work, upgrading and installing ventilation systems, and general troubleshooting.
For more than 70 years, business owners have trusted our firm to provide the expertise and service needed to do the job right the first time. Our factory-trained technicians have the skills to complete a job from start to finish, no matter the requirements.
Over the past seven decades, we’ve almost exclusively serviced and sold equipment for the Carrier line of heating and cooling systems. We’ve found no other brand is more reliable or easier to maintain, and our customers will agree.
Your HVAC system consumes a significant amount of energy, so there are many reasons to ensure your system works as efficiently as possible. Our indoor comfort professionals can custom-tailor a system to maximize your climate control, minimize costs and reduce the possibility of problems down the road.
If your organization is looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, Rockford Heating can assist with the design and installation of alternate heating sources, such as geothermal and hybrid systems. They can easily be integrated with existing systems or outfitted inside new constructions. Because geothermal systems use the Earth’s heat to warm a structure, you can save money on costly fuel sources such as coal and natural gas.
BP Roofing Solutions
6661 Squire Ct. | Loves Park, Ill. | (815) 885-8326 | bproofingsolutions.com
Maintenance saves money.
It’s a concept that applies to everything. Keeping commercial roofs clean and clear is no exception.
For Brett Polhill, co-owner of BP Roofing Solutions in Loves Park, Ill., it’s a matter of taking care of small issues before they develop into serious ones.
“Most commercial buildings have flat roofs,” Polhill says. “They don’t drain like shingled, pitched roofs do. They are more susceptible to leaks as well as water, ice and snow damage. We offer a preventative maintenance program that prevents major damage or collapse.”
Polhill opened BP Roofing Solutions three years ago, bringing more than 25 years of experience in helping businesses prevent the extensive damage that can occur to the roof, interiors and equipment. The family-owned and -operated company employs 11 workers, including Polhill’s wife and co-owner Christina plus two sons, Nick and Kaleb.
“It isn’t just the roof,” Polhill explains. “Commercial buildings usually have all their heating and air conditioning units on the roof. Those technicians don’t usually notice roof damage. And for owners, it may be a matter of out of sight, out of mind. They often don’t have any idea how bad conditions are.”
Polhill adds that regular maintenance ensures roof integrity remains intact.
“We inspect and replace flashing, repair holes and clear out drains that may be clogged with leaves, dirt and other debris,” Polhill says. “One customer had a lint issue that caused sensors on the roof to shut down, which in turn, shut down production.”
Regular maintenance is designed to meet specific customer needs, Polhill adds. While some may require inspection monthly, others may only need it on an annual basis. Either way, Polhill continues, it’s a service that could save thousands of dollars in repairs.
“Water is heavy. One inch of water standing on one square foot weighs around five pounds,” Polhill adds. “A 10-foot by 10-foot roof space covered in 1 inch of water is supporting around 500 pounds in addition to its constructed weight.”
Maintenance costs are based on the size of the roof and other factors, such as the type of roofing and the surrounding environment. Trees, and even the amount of traffic, can affect how much debris can land on a roof at any time of year. Restaurant roof vents may also cause damage from accumulated grease.
“Roof replacement is especially challenging now, with shortages in building supplies and an unreliable supply chain,” Polhill says. “I know of roofing companies that won’t get supplies needed until August. And the cost of roof repair is even more reason to have a consistent maintenance plan to avoid costly repairs.”
Polhill hopes prices will fall when the supply chain is restored, but commercial building owners shouldn’t count on that happening. Instead, he believes preventative maintenance is key to saving damage and money while extending the life of a roof.
“We’ve built BP Roofing Solutions on friendly customer relationships and reliable service,” Polhill says. “We take care of any roofing issues we run into, and our customers know we’ll take good care of them.”
For more information, contact BP Roofing Solutions at (815) 885-8326 or visit bproofingsolutions.com.