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Precision Ag Summit 2018 Presentations

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North Dakota named one of the Top 3 Drone Friendly States


At the recent AUVSI Xponential show, North Dakota showcased their industry, letting the drone community know in no uncertain terms that they are open and ready for the drone business.

North Dakota, who has invested over $35 million so far in supporting the drone industry, sees drone technology as a perfect fit to support all of the industries in the state. Focus industries include agriculture, energy, oil and gas – all areas that benefit directly from drone technology. Paul Lucy, Director of the Division of Economic Development and Finance at North Dakota’s Department of Commerce, explains: “We see it not only as an opportunity to support growth of a new industry – but also to support the existing industries in North Dakota, and make sure that they maintain a position on the cutting edge.”

Maybe because the drone industry provides so much direct benefit to existing businesses, the people of North Dakota are on board, says Brian Opp, the Department of Commerce’s Aerospace Business Development Manager. “People understand that this is going to benefit their lives. People are excited about the technology – they want to reap the benefits. The leadership of the state has been at the forefront of this push from as far back as 2005.”

North Dakota offers a trained workforce and a broad base of understanding of the drone industry. The University of North Dakota has been doing manned aviation training for over 50 years – and they were the first school to offer an undergraduate degree in UAS, back in 2009. The school offers a UAS center of excellence for research and training; a useful tool for engaging industry. The UND Center for Innovation has dedicated a wing to UAS. “It’s impressive – not just the quantity, but the diversity of the activity – people working on all aspects of the industry,” says Opp. The Northern Plains FAA UAS Test Site is one of the most diverse test sites in the country – offering a nighttime operations COA and other unique capabilities; it also has funding available to encourage its use by industry.

In addition to drone-specific education, the talent pool for the industry is broad and robust, Opp explains; pointing out that the University’s agricultural and energy researchers also contribute to the knowledge base and provide a rigorous framework of understanding about a wide range of drone applications.

The talent pool is there and the facilities in place – but what really makes North Dakota stand out as a top state for the industry is the state’s entrepreneurial spirit. That spirit is backed up by a huge array of significant programs and incentives, all designed to help new drone businesses succeed. Brian Opp says that the support comes from the top. “We cannot emphasize enough the engagement and support that we get from state leadership – our leadership is focused on this and they have been for years.”

Paul Lucy agrees, saying that North Dakota has fully embraced a culture of innovation. “There’s a groundswell of entrepreneurial culture, of which UAS is a big part,” he says. “It’s an intersection of entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology -embraced by people and supported by the state.”

The Grand Sky – UAS Business park is one example of how North Dakota’s efforts to support new businesses have resulted in real infrastructure development. Grand Sky is more than just an office park. The facility is connected with the runway at Grand Forks Airforce Base, and enjoys a joint use agreement. In addition, the park was designed as an opportunity to create a drone cluster – and foster collaboration between new companies. Paul Lucy says that this has directly helped the companies in Grand Sky develop their businesses: “North Dakota is small enough and we have enough of a development network so that the opportunities for networking are unparalleled. It’s a unique environment where the companies interact and refer each other to business opportunities. ”

And networking isn’t the only way that North Dakota supports the businesses. In addition to a favorable tax climate, the state offers a significant economic development portfolio to encourage collaborative research: which means a variety of funding opportunities and real incentives for new drone businesses. The North Dakota Development fund, a revolving fund to encourage innovative industry, recently invested their 100 millionth dollar. “North Dakota has the only state owned bank,” explains Paul Lucy. “Bank of North Dakota has a variety of different programs to support multiple industry sectors. ”

The financial and networking programs that North Dakota offers for industry are too numerous to mention them all, but Lucy sums it up simply: “In North Dakota we look for reasons to say yes, instead of reasons to say no.” Brian Opp agrees. “I don’t know if you’d find any other place that would offer more support for this industry.”

Read the full story written by Miriam McNabb and published by Drone Life at

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