FILE Chicago Rockford Airport

The Chicago Rockford Airport host the the annual Rockford Airfest in this 2012 file photo.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined local elected officials on Monday to celebrate Rockford airport’s designation as the fast-growing cargo airport in the world.

Last month, the Airports Council International named Chicago Rockford International Airport the fastest-growing airport in the world in 2018 for airports that handled more than 250,000 metric tons of air cargo. ACI is a trade association representing airports.

Pritzker said the airport's growth in Rockford was a sign that Illinois’ fifth-largest city is “a great place to do business.”

In 2018, the airport’s traffic increased 56.6 percent to 2.1 billion pounds of cargo a year. That's up from 1.4 billion pounds of cargo in 2017, according to figures provided by the airport.

The governor said he was committed to the success of Rockford. He said he was “proud to be able to back up that commitment with action.”

Pritzker used the occasion to highlight the state's $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital spending plan. The Greater Rockford Airport Authority is set to receive $14.7 million from the statewide capital plan, paid for with Build Illinois bond offerings.

Pritzker said he wants to see Rockford maintain the growth that it has seen over the past couple of years. He also said wants to see job creation to go along with the airport growth.  

The governor called the Rockford airport a “fundamental, foundational part of job growth for our state.”

The Rockford area's unemployment rate for August was 5.5 percent, higher than the statewide unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, according to the latest report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.  In that report, Rockford and Peoria were the only two metro areas in Illinois where the number of jobs declined year to year.

Nearly 1,000 jobs were created last year at the Rockford airport through new and existing tenants and construction-related jobs to support our growth, according to statistics provided by the Chicago Rockford International Airport. Airport officials said they expect to add 1,000 jobs throughout 2020.

Airport Executive Director Mike Dunn emphasized the impact of the airport's growth on the Rockford community and the state of Illinois. He said an economic impact study conducted by the state in 2010 showed the airport created about $1 billion in economic activity for the state.nDunn said for 2019, he anticipated the economic impact to be about $2 billion per year.

A major factor in the airport's growth was becoming a freight hub for e-commerce giant Amazon. The airport is also home to the second-largest UPS hub in North America. UPS continues to increase its number of daily cargo flights, according to a news release from the airport.

In addition to serving as a cargo hub, the Rockford airport is also served by two passenger airlines, Allegiant Air and Apple Vacations.  

The airport was ranked as the 19th largest cargo airport in the nation for 2018, according to FAA statistics released in July and provided by the airport. It was the only Illinois-based airport that expanded its cargo operations. Cargo activity at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport declined by more than 35 percent, according to the same report.

Staff Writer

A Chicago area radio news veteran, Jim Moran covers statewide issues for The Center Square. Previously, he has worked as a news reporter/anchor and traffic reporter for numerous radio stations across Illinois and the St. Louis metro area.