Meet John Doe: Local leaders didn’t know aviation, aerospace were big locally until 2006

By Paul Gorski

The Chicago Tribune recently printed an article: “Rockford’s hopes soar on strength of its aviation, aerospace industry” (, Sept 8, 2013) that stated “Rockford only recently stumbled upon a hidden hometown gem — a quietly thriving aerospace and aviation industry.”

The implication, officials say, is profound: Aviation might just be the key to Rockford’s decades-stalled economic turnaround.” With a local economic development official quoted as saying: ““Who would have thunk?””

Well, just about anyone who has lived here 10 years would have “thunk” that aerospace and aviation were huge here. How could you not know? How could you miss it?

The Tribune article further states our local focus on aviation started in 2006 after a report detailing industry in Rockford revealed the importance of aerospace to the area. The Tribune quoted one local official, “It was a big ah-ha to us.” 2006? Really? We didn’t know aviation and aerospace were big locally until 2006?

I didn’t grow up here; I started visiting Rockford in 1983, eventually moving here in 1992. Since 1983, I’ve crossed paths with people in local aerospace nearly every week, and nearly every aspect of my life has been touched by the local aviation and aerospace industry.

My family and friends have worked for Woodward and/or Sundstrand (now UTC Aerospace) for decades. We just had our family reunion at the Sundstrand/UTC park in Belvidere, Ill. I drive by UTC Aerospace offices on Alpine or 11th Street nearly every day. My family still visits the Woodward nativity scene every Christmas season — a Gorski family tradition for more than 20 years.

I’ve attended weddings, fund-raisers, and performed in community theater with employees of these aerospace firms. I just can’t seem to shake these folks.

Sundstrand, Hamilton-Sundstrand, UTC Aerospace and Woodward have been in the local headlines for decades, generally good news, usually because of some important contribution to the community. We may not have had Facebook and Twitter in 1990, but we did have radio, television and newspapers, although the telegraph and Pony Express were out of vogue by then.

The airport and the aviation businesses that surround it are just a few miles from my house. Passenger and commercial jets have flown over my neighborhood for years. Perhaps the planes avoid flying over Rockford as not to disturb city council members.

I’m sorry, but a lot of folks must have been asleep at the leadership wheel. I served with county board members who were or had been engineers for these local aerospace companies. Union members from the aerospace industry regularly supported and donated to local political campaigns. How could these leaders have not known how important aerospace was to the community?

I haven’t named the quoted officials because it appears this lapse of judgment has affected generations of local leaders and officials; to pick on a few now would be unfair.

However, I do ask readers to remind our current leaders about some recent news, so they don’t get caught off guard: the Wagon Wheel Resort is closed, gasoline costs more than a $1 per gallon, and Ben Schleicher is no longer mayor of Rockford (rest in peace).

The landfill still stinks, though. Some things never change.

Paul Gorski ( is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.

From the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 2013, issue

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