Chicago Rockford International Airport flies above its competitors with $40million hanger development
The Chicago Rockford International Airport is the third largest airport in the state of Illinois, home to 30 industrial tenants and vendors as well as being the largest regional parcel-sorting facility in the UPS system. Serving both commercial passenger domestic/international flights and cargo flights, the Chicago International Rockford Airport is continuously evolving and investing in the future, with the construction of two 100,000 sq. ft. aircraft maintenance and repair hangars as well as an additional passenger terminal space.
Building a future
The process of constructing a new maintenance and repair hangar was born out of an anticipated increase influx of larger cargo aircraft heading into the Chicago Rockford International Airport. Following feedback from the large cargo operators, a strategy was developed.
“The issue that seemed to come to light was if cargo operators brought a large aircraft here such as a Boeing 747-8 and it had a maintenance issue, they were concerned that there wasn’t anybody here at the airport that could address those maintenance needs or to repair the aircraft before departing,” says Jeff Polsean, Economic Development Manager at Chicago Rockford International Airport.
“So as our Airport Director Mike Dunn looked at that process he discovered that in order to have a maintenance repair type MRO here you needed to be able to train Airframe Maintenance and/or Powerplant mechanics. (A&P)”
Rock Valley College does just that. In 2015, a state of the art 30,000 sq. ft. Aviation Maintenance Educational Facility as part of the Junior College was opened within the Airport, providing the Rockford community with 120 future A&P mechanics a year. The repair and maintenance facility was$40 million collaboration between the airport Authority and AAR, a leading provider of aviation services on a global scale.
“One of the things AAR has not had in previous developments was a hangar
specifically built for their needs and operations. In the past they would find an old military aircraft hangar or a used hangar from a commercial operation, revamp it and set up their operations there. We were able to work out terms with AAR for a lease and the airport decided to build two hangars, each a little under a 100 000 sq. ft. apiece, able to occupy largest aircraft, like a 747-8 or an airbus A380,” adds Polsean.
Cleared for takeoff
The maintenance hangars project started in July 2015 and is on schedule and within that original $40 million budget, but as with most large scale development projects there has been some turbulence along the way.
“The major challenge of course for any taxing body such as the airport authority is to be able to fund a project like this,” Polsean explains.
“Fortunately, Director Dunn was able to put together a financial package with the city of Rockford and Winnebago county, the airport authority, federal government and the state of Illinois. This allowed us to build and lease back the facility to AAR.”
Throughout the process however, there was a freeze on state government funding due to some budgeting issues – up stepped the Rockford community.
“Actually, five local banks stepped up to the plate and we were able to work out a deal with the banks where they have given us a $17 million line of credit. When the state wraps up the budget issues we will pay the banks back,” adds Polsean.
“It has become a huge community effort in order to see this project go forward and reach completion.”
Collaboration with and supporting the local community is one of the major driving forces for Rockford International Airport.
“From a community standpoint, which is what the airport is concerned with, it is about building and strengthening our workforce and providing an opportunity for individuals to have a quality of life here in the U.S and be able to raise a family and buy a home,” Polsean says.
Another way in which the Rockford airport works with the community is through the Illinois Workforce, a program through the Illinois Department of Employment designed to support innovative workforce programs connecting employers to skilled workers. Polsean has helped create what he describes as a consortium of partners creating jobs for the community.
“The Illinois workforce works closely with AAR in order to establish a pipeline of applicants. AAR has also worked with the Rock Valley college to specifically design a training program for A&P mechanics,” he says.
“Even our local tier-one parts suppliers such as Woodward, UTC Aerospace Systems, B/E Aerospace, and GE Aviation they also need A&P mechanics. It’s now a consortium of local companies helping the Rock Valley college design and tailor their programs to educate the graduates and open up career prospects for them.”
The great airspace race
Rockford is the seventh largest aerospace cluster in the U.S and the area is historically known as an industrial manufacturing supply house for the United States, supplying parts to major air operators. Polsean believes that through the local workforce development, Rockford International Airport is continuing to grow that heritage to supply the “tool and die and punch operators and engineers” of the industry.
“My saying is, if you fly in an aircraft, commercial or private, some part of that platform was produced in the Rockford region,” he adds.
Being the third largest airport in the state of Illinois alongside O’Hare and Midway, how does the Rockford International airport compete? One word Space.
“We have our own air space. When an aircraft approaches our airport, it doesn’t have to get into the Chicago air traffic control air space,” Polsean explains.
“If a cargo aircraft approaches the Chicago Rockford International airport, it would land and it would taxi and be able to turn off its engines within three to five minutes.
“At O’Hare and Midway, as there is such a high volume going into the airport that same cargo aircraft will spend around 30- 45 minutes taxiing before being able to turn off its engine. Think of the fuel cost savings that short time generates.”
Two tickets to the future
In reducing the taxiing time, the airport allows cargo companies to unload and transport their cargos to market at a faster rate, becoming more profitable in the process.
“Going forward, we believe it’s a huge advantage in order for us to attract more cargo vendors,” says Polsean.
Another key advantage that Polsean believes Rockford has over O’Hare and Midway is the land around the airport. There are 3,000 acres of land around the airport, with 900 acres used for airport operations.
“We have a lot of land that we are able to develop and continue to attract new businesses. RFD is a world-class airport with 24/7 operations, CAT II/III LS, independent airspace, hard-surface runways of 10,000 and 8200 feet that are 150’ wide with 40’ paved shoulders, with a history of avoiding service disruptions, and experiencing no weather related closings in over 25 years. Looking ahead with regards to infrastructure, we believe that this is a key advantage that we have over the other airports in the state,” says Polsean.
Follow @BizReviewUSA and @NellWalkerMG
Read the August issue of Business Review USA & Canada here
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.