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Our view: Schuler's right: It really was a big week in Grand Forks

Herald editorial board

Monday, a large group gathered at Grand Sky, the growing commercial park dedicated to unmanned aircraft west of Grand Forks. In attendance was U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

Tuesday, the 12th annual UAS Summit took place at the Alerus Center, attended by Wilson, politicians and boosters of the unmanned aerial systems industry.

Wednesday, another group gathered on the north edge of Grand Forks, watching the ceremonial groundbreaking of an innovative agriculture business that will help define the region.

At the latter event, North Dakota Department of Commerce Director Jay Schuler gave a brief speech, noting that it's been a "big week" in Grand Forks. He's right.

Monday at Grand Sky, the gathering was to participate in an out-of-sight event — literally, it commemorated the first beyond visual line of sight demonstration for a large unmanned aircraft. The UAS site received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration earlier in the month. It's a notable milestone for the burgeoning industry because now, the UAS companies that do business here can reduce expenses since it greatly cuts the need for expensive chase planes.

"You're fostering collaboration here, growing jobs here, figuring out how you can use things, like a beautiful, long runway, to get the job done for your nation," Wilson told the crowd.

The next day, Wilson attended the 12th annual UAS summit at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks — another large gathering — and told attendees the Air Force has "an unquenchable appetite for cutting-edge technology in order to defend our national interests."

The technology being developed at the local UAS park could prove vital to U.S. security, as well as add strength to the city's relationship with the Air Force. That's important for our city, region, university and overall economy.

Wednesday, at the groundbreaking of Red River Biorefinery, attendees were given a closer look at that company's unique technology, which will create ethanol from byproducts like beet tailings. A decade or two ago, the phrase "value-added agriculture" became chic. We don't believe that phrase was uttered during Wednesday's round of speeches, but to us, Red River Biorefinery is value-added ag personified.

The 11-acre construction site will eventually become an 80,000-square-foot facility that will produce nearly 19 million gallons of ethanol annually, to be sold on the West Coast. It will require 25 full-time workers, and a score of support personnel. And again, it will do it all with byproduct — waste! — from large local ag producers like American Crystal Sugar, Simplot and Philadelphia Macaroni.

Expected to be completed late next year, the plant has been in the planning stages for four years. Its impact on the economy will be obvious, but less noticeable today is how it could help shape development on the city's far north side. Mayor Mike Brown pointed that out when he gave a brief speech at the Wednesday groundbreaking.

It really was a big week in Grand Forks.

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