Editorial: We can be an alternative energy showcase. . . Retooling Rockford for the future

Editorial: We can be an alternative energy showcase. . . Retooling Rockford for the future

By Frank Schier

By Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

As certainly as the wind blows and the sun shines, alternative energy beams as an industry of the future. Rockford, the time is now to make our investment in that future, for our own sake.

Chronologically, Rockford has gained renown as a ford of the Rock River, a furniture manufacturer, and the tool and die and metal fastener capital of the world.

Today, we have bridges, the furniture industries are gone, and the heavy industry of the past has become much lighter in concentration and local ownership.

However, the mainstays remain, although diminished by the recession of the 1980s and our current downturn, to mention a few of the majors still here—

Continued on page 2

From page 1

W.A.Whitney, Ingersoll, Hamilton-Sundstrand/United Technologies, Woodward Governor, J.L. Clark, Pierce Chemicals and a very resilient though also strained number of medium and small job shops.

The larger manufacturers are gathered together in the Rockford Area Council of 100, and the medium and smaller manufacturers gathered together in the Rockford Tooling and Machining Association.

The council enjoys taxpayer support, and the association is independently funded. Both organizations want the best for their members, but the economy, which hit them last spring, holds little certainty. Certainly, both organizations would make great coordinators for a Rockford alternative energy manufacturing base.

Alternative energy is a certainty. Micro hydroelectric and fuel-cell generators offer the great research and development possibilities. Wind and solar shine as the most reliable and offer the best opportunity for new products through reverse engineering.

In 2001, U.S. News and World Report predicted a 500 percent growth in wind power for Texas—“The nation’s old oil capital.”

Rockford needs a new focus for our industry to keep our manufacturing base and expand that base. We can be the alternative energy manufacturing capital of the world. All the elements needed for success in this endeavor already exist in our area.

Here’s just a few ideas. Ingersoll makes the machines that make the machines. Hamilton-Sundstrand/United Technologies is well into research on fuel cells and is a NASA supplier, the cutting-edge user of solar energy. Although Woodward Governor has sold its hydro industries in Fort Collins, Colo., to G.E., it can still produce many high-tech elements. Belvidere’s Orbital Tooling Technologies maintains and repairs steam, nuclear and hydroelectric turbines for major utilities. Could we back them in a research and development project for micro hydroelectric or wind turbine manufacturing, partnered with Rockford firms?

With all the industries in the Rockford area, the possibilities are as limitless as the future. We must think like the Japanese in five-, 10- to 100-year periods with high quality planning, development and products.

Tools and dies that are produced locally for say, $50,000, can be purchased in China and Taiwan for $15,000. NAFTA, GATT and the WTO are taking our contracts and jobs to lower labor-cost countries. We must adapt and produce a product we can export to the rest of the world.

The British know this. British Petroleum is already one of the world’s largest manufactures of solar panels. Let’s compete and win! If local companies’ engineers are not fully occupied because of the economic downturn, let’s put them to work on alternative energy components and projects.

With all the resources, will and talent in the Rockford area, we can begin today. The market is already there for wind. Solar is close behind. Micro hydroelectric, biomass and fuel cells are in the very, very near future.

Can Rockford compete, is it preparing to compete in that five-to-10-year market for alternative energy products?

Can we partner with other industries in the area and around the state?

Getting on the state techno map

Illinois has already announced its growing technology assets. Will Rockford be a leader in this statewide trend, or will we be followers?

The Schuamburg/Naperville area has become known for its computer/web industries. What can Rockford claim as its technology showcase? Yes, we have a good fiber optic hub in the River District. Yes, MCI is a service job provider, but we need hard products for an outstanding reputation and for outstanding sales and jobs for our workers.

According to the Chicago-Sun Times, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs is touting our state as a “technology-driven place to do business” in national magazine advertising. In the ad, business and finance resources are listed, featuring Boeing and the Argonne National Laboratory.

Mayor Daley has declared his intention to make Chicago the greenest city in the nation. What Daley says happens. The Chicago lakefront has never looked better, as he continues his parks, landscaping and tree planting programs.

Industry-wise, he has brought Spire Solar to Chicago, and they are a major manufacturer of solar panels.

Daley has put a rooftop garden on top of Chicago’s City Hall, saving the city heating and cooling costs, adding oxygen and aesthetics to the downtown.

The River District Association held a Rooftop Garden Conference last year featuring Daley’s engineers for their City Hall project; now we need to build municipal projects of our own.

Several promising projects have come to Rockford with great potential for alternative energy systems. First, the new federal courthouse will be built. Second, the city of Rockford has purchased the Reed-Chatwood complex. And third, the Rockford Art Museum must solve its storage and climate control issues.

Linking these three projects through alternative energy offers a winning scenario for Rockford’s large and small industries, for alternative funding sources for each project, and for Rockford to lead the state and the nation as a center and showplace of manufacturing and implementation of alternative energy.

The subject stands as real estate. If we can beat Daley’s energy policy declaration of 20 percent of all municipal buildings on alterative energy, we can beat him out for the title of “The Greenest City in the U.S.,” which is his goal.

Wouldn’t it be great to beat Chicago at something? We’ve already lost our Time Museum to them; let’s beat them to the punch on alternative energy and gain a national reputation for doing so.

Continued on page 5

From page 5

Syndicated in 150 cities nationwide, the Tony Brown show on WLS-890AM has been kind enough to mention The Rock River Times’ alternative energy coverage for the last eight Saturdays, in their 10 a.m. to noon time slot.

Today, this paper is trying to help our readers into the future. Mr. Brown recognizes the same future. Let’s meet that future fully prepared.

Accordingly, Rockford area and Illinois manufacturers, please fill out our survey on alternative energy components and products on page 10! Send it in ASAP.

The Rock River Times would like to help facilitate the process, so we have listed alternative energy references locally, regionally and nationwide on pages 8 and 10. Look at the trend and the opportunities! Also,look for updates every week. These listing will be posted on our website www.rockrivertimes.com as are all our archived articles on alternative energy.

We have retooled our website and our editorial approach this year for alternative energy. Our efforts have brought us national attention. We hope Rockford and the State of Illinois becomes known as the Silicon Valley of alternative energy, and we will do everything in our power to facilitate that very attainable dream. We did it; Rockford can, too.

The future will be powered by alternative energy.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!