In what is big news for Rockford and fair-sized news for those in Chicago’s northwestern suburbs, AAR Corp. today announced that it will open a $40 million maintenance facility and create 500 jobs with an expansion at the northern Illinois city’s airport.
The deal is making lots of headlines in what used to be the state’s second-largest city, which could use all the economic help it can get. And Gov. Pat Quinn, who could use some help, too, sure is trumpeting it today.
But the entire capital cost of the project will be funded by taxpayers, with Wood Dale-based AAR leasing the facility.
AAR is establishing a maintenance and repair center in a 200,000-square-foot hangar being built for it at Rockford’s airport. The facility will service a wide range of military and civilian planes, from rather small stuff to the huge new Boeing 747-8.
It will be the seventh of its type operated by AAR, with most of the others in Sun Belt locales such as Oklahoma City; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Hot Springs, Arkansas. According to the state, other locations outside Illinois were in the running.
The promised jobs will come over the next five years, company officials said. “AAR is the largest operator of maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities in the United States, and we are proud to add our seventh facility close to our home,” AAR Chairman and CEO David Storch said in a statement.
The state will provide $15 million for the facility, with $600,000 for job creation. The rest of the $40 million will come from airport and federal funds.
Mr. Quinn hailed the announcement as the latest sign that Illinois is turning the economic corner, with unemployment down to a six-year low. But GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner and other conservatives emphasize how far the state still has to go.
For instance, the Illinois Policy Institute says the state still has 180,000 fewer jobs than before the 2008 recession — the worst record in the country. The institute also claims most of the recent unemployment drop is due to people leaving the workforce, though state economic development chief Adam Pollet disputes that, citing other data. The truth probably is somewhere in between.
(Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that AAR will open a $40 million maintenance facility, not a $400 million one.)