We’re in a paradoxical time. Individuals must practice social distancing, keeping them away from work, from stores and from each other. At the same time, everyday activities – such as eating, buying gas, and purchasing products for making meals, cleaning your home and keeping your family and your business safe – must continue.

At no time has the cargo business been more important than right now as consumers and businesses address many of the supply needs through e-commerce purchases.

During the course of the past several years, Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) has proactively invested in, and managed its efforts on, the importance of cargo to our regional economy, community employment and continued growth for a positive impact. Now, RFD’s partners have become a spotlight of meeting our region’s needs.

Both UPS and Amazon are providing an important service and keeping some normalcy in people’s lives. At the same time, the cargo moving through our airport is bringing essential materials including personal protection equipment (PPE), medicine and other supplies to our essential workers who are fighting the COVID-19 battle on the front lines.

In fact, this week RFD hosted two Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) planes packed with more than 440 pallets and 300,000 pounds of medical supplies that were headed to a warehouse near Chicago for regional distribution to essential workers and patients.

In just the first quarter of 2020, RFD has seen over 625 million pounds of landed weight, more than a 30% increase over 2019, which was the largest cargo year ever for the airport. To provide some context, these first quarter numbers are equivalent to the cargo operations RFD and its partners see during the peak end-of-year holiday timeframe.

These are impressive numbers, but what is equally important to the increased volume of cargo is how the operations are keeping people employed – and in fact hiring – during a very tough time for our economy, locally, nationally and internationally.

Nearly 2,000 jobs were created in 2019 alone. Jobs included both permanent and seasonal positions through new and existing tenants as well as construction-related jobs to support the growth. As of the end of March, our cargo partners, which would regularly be at 3,200-3,500 employees at this time in the year, are now at 4,000-4,500 total employees.

While we could not have anticipated that an international virus would so severely impact our economies, health care systems and everyday life, we’re honored to know that our foresight to continue to grow our cargo operations has been beneficial to individuals, companies and the region overall.

RFD continues to become the Midwest’s hub for e-commerce freight by having the capacity to add flights and larger aircraft to bring supplies and materials to our region.

Additionally, RFD was notified last week that in direct response to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that regional airports would receive more than $33 million in federal funding.

RFD will receive $18.6 million to further assist it to prepare for, and respond to, disruption caused by COVID-19. Additionally, this funding will help ongoing safety and capacity projects to continue as planned.

We want to thank Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos for their commitment to helping this funding pass. The have been ardent supporters of RFD and their dedication will ensure that we further enhance our operations to serve more businesses and individuals while continuing to serve our region as an economic driver.

RFD is grateful to continue to serve our region to positively impact economic development and provide job opportunities.

The role of cargo operations in our community is vital to accomplishing the goals of social distancing while ensuring the products arrive safely to our essential employers and employees as well as bring some type of normalcy to our current world. Thank you to all of you who are making that happen.

Mike Dunn is executive director of Chicago Rockford International Airport.