For Cedar Rapids and the Corridor to continue attracting new businesses and workers, fostering an environment of innovation and collaboration will be essential.

That was the message conveyed Thursday by Kelly Ortberg, president and CEO of Rockwell Collins, in his keynote speech at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance annual meeting. More

than 1,000 people attended the event in the Exhibit Hall of the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Ortberg said Rockwell Collins has grown to become a $5 billion business through a mixture of creativity and innovation that dates back to founder Arthur Collins.

“Innovation doesn’t happen overnight,” Ortberg said. “It comes down to having some really innovative people and creating an environment to let those people innovate.”

Ortberg said Rockwell Collins engineers have been responsible for some groundbreaking innovations, such as a helmet-mounted display that allows pilots to see everything surrounding them outside a fighter jet.

“This is one of the coolest things we have done, and it really is ‘Buck Rogers,’” Ortberg said. “The helmet-mounted display in the new F-35 fighter jet will set the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and the Marine Corps way out ahead of any threats they might have.”

Ortberg said Rockwell Collins strongly supports efforts to get young students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“The investments that we are making in STEM are making a huge difference,” Ortberg said. “The engineering schools at both our major universities in Iowa are seeing record enrollments.

“We have to get to our young people at an earlier age and encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math,” he said.

Ortberg said Cedar Rapids has a lot of momentum in terms of economic growth.

“We have an innovative work force, and we have access to venture capital,” he said. “We really don’t need to make a course correction. We just need to go full speed ahead.”