UAS Ecosystem: Catalyst for growth

How has the EDC evolved to support North Dakota’s UAS growth, the ecosystem of UAS? That question was posed to me at the UAS Summit last week.

I found a description of ecosystem that perfectly describes our region and how we’ve developed this young UAS sector: An ecosystem is about how people meet, talk, trust, share, collaborate, team, experiment, and grow together.


The EDC is only one of many organizations that are working toward common goals to build this industry for the region and state. When I refer to “we” it’s a collective reference to local, state, and federal stakeholders who are part of building this UAS ecosystem – not just we, the EDC.

Meet. Talk. Trust. Share. Collaborate. Team.

When the Grand Forks Air Force Base lost its tanker mission in 2005 our Base mission was realigned. Our governor and Congressional delegation at the time were successful in securing the Global Hawk mission. That was the beginning.

We received funding through the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) to address economic impacts of the base mission realignment. We channeled that support to form the Base Realignment Impact Committee (BRIC). Its members – the EDC, City of Grand Forks, Grand Forks County, UND, and The Chamber – have a mandate:

Diversify the economy, leverage base assets, and enhance the value of the Base and its missions.

The new UAS mission in 2005 served as a catalyst for our region to embrace the mission and evolve with and for our base and community and we coalesced around common goals. We began building the integrated network we have today.

We’ve built relationships and trust. We’ve fostered public-private collaborations that resulted in a successful bid to be one of six FAA UAS integration test sites as well as the completion of an enhanced use lease with the U.S. Air Force to develop the nation’s first UAS Aviation & Business Park.

Northrop Grumman and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems are anchoring the Grand Sky park and have exciting plans for their growth here.

UND is churning out well-educated students who are embracing UAS opportunities and launching businesses from Grand Forks. Field of View and Sky Skopes are just two examples of companies started by UND graduates who are seizing opportunities in the industry.

Across all areas, visionary leaders have stepped up to take risks, experiment and make advancements that have led to us being recognized as the Silicon Valley for Drones.

Since 2010, the EDC has employed a UAS business developer and partnered with the state of North Dakota to market the region’s UAS assets. We’re now attracting international companies and helping the develop partnerships for research and business opportunities here.

Even though our region has been investing in UAS development for about 10 years, it’s still new. And we’re still evolving.