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11th UAS Summit & Expo brings leaders and industry development to Grand Forks

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The unmanned aerial systems industry is developing at breakneck speed, and Grand Forks is fortunate to be right in the middle of it.

The annual UAS industry conference was held this week at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, further highlighting the city's emergence as the place to be for anyone associated with drone development. And two members of the state's federal delegation raved in recent days about the city's place in the UAS world.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., spoke at the Grand Forks noon Rotary Club Tuesday and noted the grand opening of General Atomics' new Flight Test and Training Center at Grand Sky. He says the company's facility is an "international asset."

Hoeven also discussed efforts to make Grand Forks stand out as the destination for new UAS business, including authorization of beyond-line-of-sight operation for flights, and upgrades for high-tech digital radar systems at Grand Forks Air Force Base and at Hector International Airport in Fargo.

He said these things are important if North Dakota wants to distance itself from competition for new — and lucrative — UAS-related businesses.

And last week, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told the Herald the development of the UAS industry in Grand Forks is creating a "wow" culture and that he hopes residents are encouraged by it.

He said Grand Forks' UAS industry is being noticed by decision-makers in Washington.

"Actually, it's in high esteem," Cramer said. "The FAA knows, and certainly the Air Force knows, how impressive it is."

This is good to hear as Grand Forks continues its push to be the leader in the UAS industry. It's important to be loud and proud about this growth, since we know others are equally enthusiastic as they try to grab their own piece of the pie.

For example, upstate New York is hoping to similarly position itself as a UAS destination. Last summer, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $5 million in funding to grow the UAS industry in that state. A press release at the time noted the money is intended to help "bolster the ongoing efforts to create a hub for unmanned aerial systems innovation and manufacturing."

If that sounds familiar, it's because it mirrors the work that's being done here. Luckily, it appears Grand Forks is ahead of everyone else in this race, and the new buildings at Grand Sky — manned with employees from Northrup Grumman and General Atomics — essentially plants a flag in this heretofore uncharted territory. The beyond-line-of-sight ruling helps, too.

"The thing I love about it is there is always something new (here) that we get to say nobody else is doing," Cramer said. "I'm familiar with (efforts in) northern New York. That whole area is very high on UAS. But you just can't be what we have."

And "what we have" is due to a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people.

Story written by Herald Editorial Board

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