By Marissa Alter
WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) - More jobs will be on the way to the Rockford region thanks to a major green energy deal with Wanxiang America. The Chinese company broke ground today on its solar panel facility in the Rockford Global Trade Park.
Dozens of regional leaders showed up to celebrate the success. It was a pretty exciting day for city, county, and airport leaders who've worked on this deal for quite a long time.
Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said he invited Wanxiang's president to Airfest and later an IceHogs game to try and grow the relationship. More than two years later, there's evidence of that work.
The rumble of equipment provided the background noise of success as local leaders celebrated Wanxiang's groundbreaking.
"We were able to sell them on this vision of partnering with the airport and developing this large solar farm through partnerships and a lot of hard work. That's how we got to this day," explained Morrissey.
Wanxiang wasn't interested in Rockford at first for its solar panel facility, but persistence paid off.
"We like the aggressiveness of the city from the local authority, trying to get us here, and we have a good relationship. Trust is very important," stated Wanxiang America's President Pin Ni.
The operation will be the first of its kind in the Rockford region. Phase one includes a 40,000 square foot space and 60 workers. In the future, that could expand to 160,000 square feet and 200 employees.
"There's an idea in economic development called clustering. So once you have one piece of industry, you can attract others. So to have a solar panel manufacturer here gives us a stick in the ground for when we sell to others to try and bring their alternative energy companies to our region," emphasizes RAEDC President Janyce Fadden.
"Getting people to work is what it's all about, and that's one of the most gratifying things about all the effort and work we put in is being able to put our citizens to work," said City Administrator Jim Ryan, who put in a tremendous amount of hours to get the deal passed.
This solar facility on airport grounds is also huge because only three other airports host solar panel fields. Rockford would become the fourth.
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