While this week has been full of excitement surrounding our football game with “Chicago’s Big Ten team” and celebrating NIU’s own strong Chicago presence, it has been the university’s engagement in Rockford that has been a focal point for media and legislators lately.
On Tuesday morning, I visited the state’s third largest city to discuss NIU’s partnership and participation in the Chicago-based Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) with Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and Senator Dick Durbin, who had visited our DeKalb campus last Friday. As part of the discussion, I talked about NIU’s long history of engagement and outreach in the Rockford area, where NIU has a dedicated Office of Regional Engagement. The College of Engineering & Engineering Technology has helped facilitate more than $20 million in federal funding for manufacturing projects over the last decade. Most recently, NIU has led a collaborative focused on strengthening the area’s thriving aerospace cluster. We continue to work closely with the EIGERlab, the Rockford area’s business incubator/accelerator, where NIU’s manufacturing training, consultation and outreach was centered for the last decade. EIGERlab seems an ideal location for a regional hub for DMDII, and we will work with our regional partners and DMDII to help facilitate this connection.
Two weeks ago, Senator Mark Kirk visited NIU-Rockford with Export-Import Bank Chairman and President Fred Hochberg to discuss the importance of reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank, which last year equipped 149 Illinois businesses to export goods and services worth more than $857 million as they grow their operations and create the jobs for the new industrial revolution. Several NIU students had the opportunity to meet with the Senator and Chairman as part of the visit.
Rockford is a place with a proud manufacturing tradition, where manufacturing still accounts for about 30% of employment and 30% of the GDP. Both the Digital Lab and Ex-Im Bank allow for growth and innovation in their own ways. Higher education, government and business leaders must work collaboratively to enhance global competitiveness and grow our economy. The urgent need to accelerate the revitalization of American manufacturing is keenly felt in a community like Rockford.
Collaboration demands committed partners working together to create new expectations and realities. One indication that this is happening in Rockford is the presence of Transform Rockford, a community change initiative currently underway. In a meeting with Transform Rockford leaders Tuesday, it was exciting to see that we have a lot of common ground in terms of the visioning processes both the group and NIU are undergoing in building a sustainable model for thriving communities in DeKalb and Rockford.
I believe in Rockford, and look forward to working with all of our partners to facilitate meaningful outcomes for hard-working communities like Rockford in the state of Illinois and across the country.
Go Huskies! Beat Northwestern!