Durbin, Manzullo hold Capitol Hill meeting with Embry-Riddle leader

By:  Chuck Sweeny
Rockford Register-Star

The campaign on behalf of Rockford to convince Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to bring its third campus to Chicago Rockford International Airport got some clout Thursday from Capitol Hill, where U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, and fellow Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., met with E-R CEO John Johnson and two of his deans. Nelson is a former E-R board member and a friend of Johnson, Durbin said.

Also making the case for RFD were U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-16th and Rep. Bill Foster, R-14th. The meeting lasted nearly an hour, Durbin said. Because of bad weather in Daytona Beach, Fla., where E-R is headquartered, the meeting had to take place via video conference, Durbin said.

“We made a strong presentation,” Durbin said. “Johnson was was very positive about the Rockford opportunity. First off, they really liked Rockford, the people, the resources of the community, particularly with aerospace technology. It’s clear to me he’s looking for a regional campus to have a reach into the Chicago area and well beyond.”

Durbin said Johnson will make a presentation about Rockford to the E-R board in November. “He didn’t know whether they could make a recommendation at that time between RFD and Houston,” the other city in the running. A decision might not come until March, Durbin said.

E-R wants to know what kind of package local, state and federal governments are going to offer, Durbin said. Those efforts are being coordinated through the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.

Durbin said he assured Johnson that if the decision is made to come to Rockford, “I’d continue to find aviation research projects that fit Embry-Riddle’s needs.”

Among other things, E-R is doing research into unmanned space vehicles and composite technology, Durbin said.

E-R wants to partner with community colleges in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, as well as with universities and industries, Durbin said.

Manzullo, who said Houston is Rockford’s chief competition, told Johnson that “what we have here you can’t match anywhere, and one of our top assets is the airport, which I worked with Sen. Durbin for a long time to build up.”

“I told him I have letters from Woodward, Hamilton Sundstrand and GE Aerospace saying they will set up internships and hire graduates,” Manzullo said.

The proposed third campus would employ 250 faculty and have 1,000 students, many of whom would live in dorms on campus.