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Drone flight, speakers kick off Drone Biz lunch series

A full house greeted organizers of a new lunch series focusing on the Grand Forks area's drone industry Thursday. More than 100 people attended the first Drone Biz lunch, some likely getting their first up-close view of a drone taking flight as o...

A Inspire 1 drone carries a tablet streaming live video from the flight to the city of Grand Forks’ Facebook page on July 14 to kick off the Drone Biz lunch series. Photo by Brandi Jewett/Grand Forks Herald.
A Inspire 1 drone carries a tablet streaming live video from the flight to the city of Grand Forks’ Facebook page on July 14 to kick off the Drone Biz lunch series. Photo by Brandi Jewett/Grand Forks Herald.
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A full house greeted organizers of a new lunch series focusing on the Grand Forks area's drone industry Thursday.

More than 100 people attended the first Drone Biz lunch, some likely getting their first up-close view of a drone taking flight as one roared to life as part of the program held in the Herald Community Room.

The short flight featured an Inspire 1 aircraft flown by aerial inspection company SkySkopes. In lieu of using its own camera, the drone carried a tablet that streamed live video of the flight to the city of Grand Forks Facebook page.

The demonstration got the crowd talking, which was good news for organizers who created the event to forge connections between local businesses and the growing drone industry in the Grand Forks area.

"There's a whole lot here and we need to start talking and keep talking about this," Brandon Baumbach, business development projects coordinator for the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, told the crowd.

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North Dakota officials have spent the last several years building the state's reputation as a hub for unmanned aircraft activity, and Drone Biz organizers say they want to continue building on that foundation.

Keynote speaker Thomas Swoyer Jr., the developer behind the 217-acre Grand Sky business park under construction at Grand Forks Air Force Base, said he's often asked why the industry should take note of North Dakota and Grand Forks.

"I get asked 'Why Grand Forks?' from people in Grand Forks more than anywhere else," he said. "I'm not kidding. So I have started answering this way: Why not here? Why not now? Why not us?"

Swoyer cites academic and military resources and several key growth sectors present in the state-agriculture, energy, infrastructure and military-as reasons the North Dakota has a business-friendly environment for the technology.

"There are big chunks of money that North Dakota is in the leadership position to capture," he said "I think we have some good folks who are going to go after that."

The state stands to gain from the industry's rapid growth, with hundreds of jobs expected to crop up in the region in the next few years-many centered at Grand Sky.

Tenants there expect to have more than 100 workers in place by next year. In total, Swoyer predicts 1,000 will go to the park each day for work once it is completed. Another 2,000 jobs will consist of temporary positions at the park and growth in service sectors in surrounding towns.

The opportunities with unmanned aircraft systems reach beyond bringing new businesses to town. Swoyer also highlighted other established industries that are embracing the technology, such as insurance parcel delivery companies.

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Organizers of Drone Biz say they hope local companies attending the lunches are inspired to seek such opportunities and integrate drones into their operations.

"Keep telling yourself it's not about just the plane in the air," Baumbach said, adding that companies from camera manufacturers to data analysts have stakes in the drone industry's growth.

Drone Biz is held every second Thursday of the month from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. More information about each month's event and location can be found at www.evolve-nd.com .

The lunch series is co-hosted by Evolve ND, Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation and The Chamber.

The next lunch will feature David Dvorak, CEO of Field of View, and Matt Dunlevy, CEO of SkySkopes, presenting on new federal drone regulations-known informally as Part 107-set to go into effect Aug. 29

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS REGION EDC
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