Kentucky-based drone manufacturer makes move to Grand Forks

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The KittyHawk drone, made by Mobile Recon Systems, can carry up to 60 pounds. (submitted photo)

A Kentucky-based drone designer and manufacturer has made the move to Grand Forks.

Mobile Recon Systems will be the first manufacturer to relocate to the region’s UAS ecosystem. The company will hold a ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 24, at its Grand Forks location to mark the completion of a nearly year-long process to secure funding, select a site and get integrated into Grand Forks’ network of UAS companies.

In a press release, Mobile Recon CEO Tom Nickell said the drone ecosystem in the state provided the best location to set up a manufacturing facility for his company’s heavy-lifting drones, some of which can carry as much as 200 pounds.

“The research, design, workforce and long-term capital support made our decision on the location easy,” Nickell said. “We’re happy to be here and excited to showcase our products at the open house.”

The move started in November 2019, when Mobile Recon received an Economic Development Agency loan from the Jobs Development Authority in Grand Forks. Along with loans from Choice Bank and the North Dakota Development Fund, the company raised $1.2 million -- $400,000 from each entity -- to purchase equipment and provide it with enough working capital to establish a manufacturing base.


“This is a great addition to the UAS sector, as well as our local economy,” said Brandon Baumbach, business development manager for the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation. “We look forward to celebrating their arrival and the growth and expansion in the UAS industry at their open house.”

In 2019, Nickell told the JDA the drones his company manufacturers have a variety of uses, including utility line inspection and supply chain logistics. The drones can replace the need for helicopters and Jeeps, in some situations. Heavier load-bearing drones also may be used in search-and-rescue-operations, in places where helicopters can’t fly, or to ferry supplies to a remote location.

That event will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. at 1213 Rylan Road. It will be held outdoors so attendees can have the space to maintain social distance. Those wishing to enter the location to view drone exhibits will be required to wear masks.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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