The Excelsior has been given annually since 1979 to an organization that exemplifies community service and excellence, and that works to make a difference in the Rock River Valley. The Chicago Rockford International Airport is an Excelsior finalist.

Organization: Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD)

Address: 2 Airport Circle, Rockford

Phone: 815-969-4000

Website: flyrfd.com

Year founded: 1946

Executive director: Mike Dunn Sr.

Total staff: 44

Annual budget: $6 million

Mission: To create regional economic opportunities through global aviation.

What the nominator said: "Cities are termed the 'engines of civilization.' The 'engines of a city' are many and none are more important than a vibrant transportation infrastructure led by a sustaining and growing airport. We observe, with satisfaction and gratitude, the growth and enormous economic and social impact of RFD. The support of the entire community, buy-in at the state and federal levels, plus private company investment, represent a success story that keeps repeating due to the tireless efforts of many and the Greater Rockford Airport Authority.

— John L. Borling, Major General, United States Air Force - Retired

Responses by Paul Cicero, chairman, Greater Rockford Airport Authority

How does RFD work to make the Rockford region a better place?

RFD provides convenient, user-friendly air service to multiple vacation destinations. We continue to work hard to secure more routes and to seek European routes. Our passenger analysis shows use by travelers from an approximately 150-mile radius. UPS and our cargo handling and MRO partners provide hundreds of private employment jobs, and the expansion of these operations will create hundreds of new jobs. We foresee tremendous growth over the next three years. Cargo flights during this holiday season will be approximately 60 air freighters per day.

What is the biggest non-budgetary challenge facing the airport and how do you overcome it?

Maintaining focus on our core mission of economic development, and increasing our passenger options. Because O’Hare is so close, our ability to compete on commercial passenger routes is limited. Because O’Hare is so close, we are able to more than efficiently compete on dedicated cargo operations. Ultimately, good economics will win out. One of our goals is to maintain our economic advantages.

Describe one of the most rewarding moments you can recall that made your work feel worthwhile:

In 2011, we hired the premier national aviation industry search firm to seek a new director. The firm did a nationwide search resulting in 50 candidates. We agreed that not one of them had any likelihood of producing the timely results we all sought and this community needed.

It was determined that our executive director, Michael P. Dunn Sr., might just be the man for the job. This was a correct decision. Mike and his staff went to work, and I think the results speak for themselves. The financial, logistical and political challenges were seemingly insurmountable. Watching and participating in a successful navigation and execution of intergovernmental partnerships and cooperation, and the private sector assistance and buy-in to the program is very gratifying. An aerial photograph of the airport from five years ago shows massive physical changes. The economic impact can’t really be shown in a photo and grows each year. The board feels this is the real legacy, and that is what makes our efforts worthwhile.

Jeff Kolkey: 815-987-1374; jkolkey@rrstar.com; @jeffkolkey