The Right Stuff for Rockford
What does Rockford need? The question brewed in Steve Carter’s mind.
It was around 2009, the economy was struggling, and Carter sat at a crossroads. He’d recently retired after 20 years at Woodward, the aerospace manufacturer in Loves Park, Ill., and although he’d found work as a consultant, Carter was thirsty for a new challenge. He wanted to make a difference in his hometown.
Then he met Darrin Kopala, an enthusiastic suburban Chicago engineer who had started his own company, Ingenium Aerospace, in 2006. Suddenly, Carter knew the answer: Rockford needed companies that could provide career opportunities. And he and Kopala could do something about it.
Today, the pair operate an important cog in what’s been called one of America’s largest clusters of aerospace manufacturing. Not only is their firm keeping 45 employees and their families in Rockford, but it’s also feeding a wealth of local manufacturers, such as machine shops, fabricators and metalsmiths.
Specializing in low- to mid-volume, highly engineered custom products for the commercial and military aerospace markets, Ingenium Aerospace designs motion-control systems and rotating components, purchases the parts from local firms, then assembles, tests and ships the final product to the likes of Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and Northrup.
“We have good opportunities to work here and to work with people who are developing products that are important to our military and our country,” says Carter. “Those opportunities exist in a lot of ways, but I don’t think a lot of people know that.”
Finding the right people with the right skills is challenging in this business, says Carter, but those who do land in Rockford often find themselves amazed at the quality of life available here.
“They see and enjoy the things this community has because they’ve lived somewhere else,” says Carter, who’s spent most of his life in Rockford. “It’s the people who live here and have not lived elsewhere that only see issues and problems and don’t realize those issues and problems happen other places, too.”
For years, Carter and his wife, Lisa, have done their part to improve the community and support assets like Carpenters Place, Crusader Community Health, Rock House Kids and Discovery Center Museum. Now 71, Carter says he’s stepping back from day-to-day volunteer leadership to make a place for the next generation. After all, it’s these young leaders and their children who have the biggest stake in Rockford’s success.
“I don’t want all the best and brightest people to leave Rockford,” Carter says. “I want them to think about how they can be here and continue to make this community special and provide opportunities for the next generation.”
Source: “25 Most Interesting People.” Northwest Quarterly. The Annual 2023, page 114.
Articles in this series are by various writers: Chris Linden, Lindsey Lukas, Jim Taylor, Steven Bonifazi, Paul Anthony Arco, Stephanie N. Grimoldby, Paula Hendrickson, and Jermaine Pigee.
Photography by Samantha Behling.