While a colossal nightmare for many, 2020 proved a fruitful year for the Quad Cities' largest employer in securing federal funding for job initiatives at the Rock Island Arsenal.
According to the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, efforts of local elected officials, federal lawmakers and community and private-sector leaders helped secure more than $240 million in federal dollars to support continued modernization, improvements and workforce training at the Arsenal.
The legislative victories build off wins in 2019 that helped align the Rock Island Arsenal with major Army modernization priorities and the National Defense Strategy, said Davenport Mayor Mike Matson.
"It’s huge that our congressional folks are willing to fight for the Arsenal and new contracts and keeping it viable," said Matson, who also serves as vice president of the Rock Island Arsenal Defense Alliance Board of Directors.
"We appreciate our congressional delegation’s active engagement to ensure the Rock Island Arsenal continues to support our nation’s security while positively impacting our region’s economy," Matson said in a chamber press release.
The Rock Island Arsenal is now the largest local employer in the region with 5,089 civilian, 471 military, and 669 contracted employees. All told, 14,000 community jobs are tied to the Arsenal.
"I think we’re in a better place, because we’re all pulling on the same oar," Matson said in an interview of a "more cohesive" effort by members of the Quad Cities congressional delegation in advocating for the Arsenal.
"Anytime we get big projects or contracts to keep people employed there is a big win" in keeping the Arsenal "viable and stable as a long-term employer," Matson said.
A spokesperson for the Arsenal, however, said it is awaiting guidance from the Army and Department of Defense as to how the recently passed federal measure will impact operations.
"These are things that were just recently passed about a month ago," said Kimberly Conrad, congressional affairs specialist at the Rock Island Arsenal. "Yes, they appear to be wins, but … we don’t get to see that just yet. We have to wait for the DOD and Army to provide guidance as to how we can move forward with that. Until that guidance comes … we’re not quite sure what the means for the Arsenal."
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, and U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, in statements released by the Chamber said the federal funding will help ensure remains a leader in defense manufacturing and innovation.
"The Rock Island Arsenal is a critical part of our nation’s defense strategy and the Quad Cities community that drives the local economy," said Bustos, who serves as a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
Grassley and Durbin echoed Bustos, stating the federal funding and job initiatives will boost the Arsenal’s competitiveness.
- $120 million to work on the next generation of the Shop Equipment Contact Maintenance system, a service station on wheels. The mobile shop shelter is mounted on the back of a Humvee.
- $25 million for the development of soft recoil technology for vehicle-mounted artillery
- $10 million to sustain research and development of a jointless hull to be possibly be used to protect the underbelly in the next-generation combat vehicle or troop transport from roadside bombs
- $1.5 million and legislative language to improve underutilized space at Rock Island Arsenal
- $60 million for the Defense Community Infrastructure Program to help improve infrastructure outside of the Arsenal. The program helps local communities offset costs to address infrastructure upgrades needed to support the Arsenal
- $25 million for the Defense Manufacturing Communities program to help support and grow the skillsets of Arsenal employees. The program will make long‐term investments in critical skills, research and development and small business support
"We want to make sure that we are keeping (the Arsenal) as a vibrant employer so that way jobs stay rooted here in the Quad Cities," said Paul Rumler, president and CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber. "And the work that we do to make sure they get funded and they have new projects in their pipeline all go toward making sure the Rock Island Arsenal stays vibrant" in contributing the local economy and the nation's military readiness.