By Brian Leaf
January 2, 2011
ROCKFORD – As Rockford continues openly courting Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University like it’s rush week at a college, Houston has taken a more quiet, by-the-book economic development approach to landing the school.
After a public welcome party for Embry-Riddle President John Johnson in October – he came to see how an Embry-Riddle residential campus might fit into the southeast side – it’s seemingly been all quiet on the Texas front.
Yeah, not so much.
“We’re all hands on deck,” says Dan Seal, executive director of the Bay Area Houston Partnership, the economic development agency leading efforts to land Embry-Riddle in Houston. “We’re taking this opportunity very seriously. We think it’s an excellent organization, and we’re looking forward to working with them.”
Embry-Riddle promises to bring residential campus with 1,000 students, 250 faculty and staffers, a flight school and a future supply of labor for clusters of aerospace companies that Houston and Rockford want to be a bigger part of their economies.
Seal says the Houston team sent Embry-Riddle a proposal in November, a month after cheerleaders, a marching band, high school aviation students, aerospace executives and Gov. Rick Perry gave Johnson what a Houston aviation official characterized as “a good ol’ Texas welcome.”
Seal said Ellington Airport has a tarmac, buildings and other facilities Embry-Riddle can use. They can build the campus on the airport or put residential and classroom buildings there.
“They can really be an excellent anchor tenant for any area,” he said.
Ellington is used by the military, commercial planes, NASA aircraft and general aviation pilots.
“Of course, Governor Perry is a former Air Force pilot,” Seal said. “He’s an aviator, so all things aerospace are near and dear to his heart.”
Texas, like Illinois, has pledged its support for Embry-Riddle. Incentives have yet to be determined. “We’re in a wait-and-see mode right now. We’re interested in seeing what the next steps are. We really have nothing more to report.”
In Rockford, economic development officials are working privately in teams on project details for Embry-Riddle, too.
“Every day is an Embry-Riddle day,” Janyce Fadden, president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, has said at several meetings.
But they also have kept alive a public component of their recruiting efforts that began as a pep rally, became a show-of-support flight to Embry-Riddle’s main campus in Daytona Beach, Fla., and morphed into the $1 million Rock the Air fund the university can use for scholarships, but only if it picks Rockford.
Fadden said embracing Embry-Riddle as a community and rallying around things like the scholarship drive are important as it puts together its proposal.
“We want to put together a differentiated package,” she said. “It really helps differentiate us.”