First, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, builder of the Predator UAV, opened an office in Grand Forks. Then Northrop Grumman, the maker of Global Hawks, opened a Grand Forks office as well.
Then Simlat, an Israeli company specializing in training unmanned aircraft operators, chose Grand Forks as the site for its first branch office in the world.
Then in February, UND signed a lease with the U.S. Air Force for a new unmanned aircraft training center featuring Predator simulators.
What do these and many other unmanned aircraft system developments in Grand Forks have in common?
A seamless web of civic support that includes the North Dakota congressional delegation, Grand Forks city government-and, importantly, the governor and Legislature of North Dakota.
The latter players strongly reaffirmed their support last week. Grand Forks and the region owe the governor and the state’s lawmakers a loud and clear “Thanks”.
Two years ago, the Legislature gave $5 million to the ongoing effort to enhance the growth of Grand Forks Air Force Base. The year lawmakers not only matched that sum but exceeded it: a total of $7 million in state funds will go toward cementing the base and Grand Forks’ role as a national center of UAVs.
The money has given and will again give the base a vital boost. To take just one example, the Predator simulators mentioned above were bought with North Dakota Department of Commerce money-money that was part of the 2009 Legislature’s $5 million grant.
And over the next two years, some $4 million of the newly authorized $7 million will go toward wining authorization for UAV operations in North Dakota airspace. That will require Federal Aviation Administration approval. But the odds of winning that approval recently jumped, thanks to a federal law calling on the FAA to designate several UAV airspace test sites.
Not coincidentally, the North Dakota congressional delegation co-sponsored the new law.
These positive developments don’t happen by accident. They come about because local, state, federal and private-sector leaders work together to set and reach goals. The state of North Dakota’s continuing support is a big part of that effort: It’s a powerful vote of confidence, one that Grand Forks, UND and the Air Force base have turned into tangible gains.
So, to the local lawmakers and civic officials who led the effort and the governor and statewide lawmakers who supported it: again, thanks. The state’s generous grants will go a long way toward boosting Grand Forks’ role in homeland security, national defense and as a center of one of the fastest-growing and most exciting industries in the world.