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Kentucky drone company to set up in Grand Forks with JDA loan

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The Jobs Development Authority voted on Monday, Nov. 5, to authorize a loan to a Kentucky-based company, which, along with other sources of funding, will allow it to set up shop in Grand Forks.

The vote, which passed unanimously on Monday night, will give an Economic Development Agency Revolving Loan Fund loan to Mobile Recon Systems LLC, a manufacturer of heavier load-bearing drones. That loan, along with a loan from Choice Bank and the North Dakota Development Fund, will total $1.2 million, $400,000 from each entity. The funding will allow Mobile Recon Systems to purchase equipment and inventory, and provide it with enough capital to establish a manufacturing base and hire new staff in Grand Forks.

The EDARLF loan will be disbursed in two payments of $200,000, with the first payment expected soon, and the second payment conditional upon the company achieving sales targets. The loan has been inked to be repaid in 84 equal monthly installments. The company anticipates that it will create 13 jobs in the first two years in operation.

“This is an exciting project that validates Grand Forks’ UAS strategy. This strategy is helping to diversify and strengthen our entire region,” said Brandon Baumbach, business development manager for the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation.

The company is seeking a place to manufacture its drones, which Baumbach told the JDA have the capacity to lift more than 200 pounds. After investigating several states, Tom Nickell, CEO of Mobile Recon Systems, along with principal owners Mike and Sandra Dowell, decided to establish the company’s corporate headquarters in Grand Forks.

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Baumbach told the JDA that the region’s UAS system is unmatched and has an effective growth strategy.

“We’ve determined that really the best ecosystem, the best support that we could see, both technical (research and design), workforce and long-term with capital support is North Dakota,” Nickell told the JDA. “So we are happy to have this opportunity.”

Nickell told the JDA that the company’s drones have a variety of uses, from utility line inspection to supply chain logistics -- replacing the need for helicopters and Jeeps in some situations. These drones also may be used for search-and-rescue operations, in places where helicopters can’t fly.

Just after the JDA meeting Monday night, Mike Dowell said he and his wife, Sandra, were happy to come from Kentucky and appear before the board in person to show their support.

“Drones are moving in a whole new direction, and we want to spearhead that direction,” Dowell said. “It’s all about conquering the flight.”

Dowell said the strong regional economy and the ability to hire highly skilled employees were some of the reasons that make North Dakota so attractive.

“North Dakota actually makes it far more feasible than most other areas in the United States,” he said. “The open space, the corridor space…”

Sandra Dowell was quick to add: “The welcoming people. It makes a difference.”

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 akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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