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Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber forms new statewide UAS committee

It'll be made up of members from across North Dakota, but to local Chamber of Commerce leaders, it's important that it's roots are planted in Grand Forks.

Grand Sky
A number of UAS companies, including Northrop Grumman, operates at Grand Sky, west of Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – North Dakota’s unmanned aerial industry has grown exponentially in the past decade, and much of that growth is centered in and around Grand Forks.

So it makes sense that a new statewide panel is being formed by a Grand Forks entity.

Tommy Kenville.jpg

The Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday announced the formation of the North Dakota UAS Leadership Committee, a group that will meet regularly to discuss issues and opportunities in unmanned aerial systems.

The group is soliciting membership from across the state, but it notably is being formed in Grand Forks, which has been at the forefront of North Dakota’s burgeoning UAS industry. Within the past decade, a number of UAS companies have opened or moved to Grand Forks, including national aeronautics leaders like Northrop Grumman and General Atomics. Grand Sky – a UAS-specific business park west of Grand Forks – bills itself as “the United States’ first commercial UAS business and aviation park and premier UAS testing location in the nation.”

Meanwhile, Grand Forks Air Force Base has transitioned its mission to remotely controlled aircraft.

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Grand Forks Chamber Board Chairman Tommy Kenville, who owns Grand Forks-based ISight Drone Services, said the idea is modeled somewhat like the Chamber’s Herald Business Advisory Committee, a group that meets quarterly to discuss business happenings in and around Grand Forks.

“There are so many different moving parts in the state’s UAS industry. We need to help each other,” Kenville told the Herald. “We have all different sizes of companies now, but it used to be just little ones like mine, with 30-some employees. Now, there are 200 (employees) at Northrop Grumman, 150 at General Atomics and Grand Sky is building more and more. Williston has a program, Minot has operations and we have operations in Fargo.”

But, Kenville said, “we’re the hub, right? We have 90 percent of today’s drone action happening here.”

The initial co-chairmen of the group are both based in Grand Forks: Tom Swoyer, of Grand Sky, and Michael Fridolfs, of Northrop Grumman.

“We’re trying to put a stake in the ground here, that we are the epicenter for everything UAS,” said Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce. “UAS is such a huge part of our future, and we’re the leader in this.”

Wilfahrt expects that along with sharing insights and discussing the industry in general, the committee’s members will “look at issues and opportunities that arise in the Legislature that we need to be aware of.”

Swoyer, in a statement sent by the Chamber, said “the committee will monitor and coordinate action on various threats and opportunities in preparation for and during the future legislative session. We will continue past 2023.”

Kenville said he’ll consider the committee a success “by the industry keeping the growth pattern up.”

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“If you count government and non-government companies, I bet we’re pushing 1,500 to 2,000 drone-employed people in North Dakota right now,” he said. “That’s something, and in not a lot of time. We need to keep that going up.”

Since it's a committee made up of members from across the state, not everyone will be a member of the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce. Wilfahrt said committee members will be required to be Chamber of Commerce members in their respective communities, however.

Related Topics: BUSINESS
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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