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OUR OPINION: Thanks, Senator

Like a Thunderbird pilot at the Air Force base, Grand Forks is revving its engine at the head of a runway and is poised for a dramatic skyward leap.

Like a Thunderbird pilot at the Air Force base, Grand Forks is revving its engine at the head of a runway and is poised for a dramatic skyward leap.

For evidence, look at the list of speakers from the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Action Summit now in its second day at the Alerus Center:

Navy Capt. Stephen Rorke, military director, Air Vehicle Engineering Department, Naval Air Systems Command ... Tom Faller, national director of UAS Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection ... Michael Toscano, executive director, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International ... Rick Prosek, manager of the UAS Program Office, Federal Aviation Administration ... this morning's keynote speaker, Gen. Norton Schwartz, U.S. Air Force chief of staff ...

Mind you, that's a partial list.

The UAS industry is one of the most exciting in the world today. Its growth is unlimited; its potential, unmatched.


And as the summit's participants will testify, Grand Forks is evolving into a global center for UAS training, operations and research.

For that, North Dakotans should thank their congressional delegation, who've helped catalyze this development at every stage. And Sen. Byron Dorgan, who is retiring this year, deserves special thanks.

Without Dorgan, it's safe to say, the Alerus Center today would be hosting a rock concert or a Motocross event, not a high-level summit for what might be the fastest growing industry on Earth.

Dorgan's fingerprints can be found on almost every placard in the summit's exhibition area. Take UND's Odegaard School of Aerospace Sciences: "The federal defense appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee includes $1 million to create a UND Center for Excellence that supports Grand Forks Air Force Base's upcoming unmanned aerial vehicle mission, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Wednesday," the Herald reported in 2005.

Dorgan, not coincidentally, sits on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Take the Red River Valley Research Corridor, co-sponsor of the summit: "In early 2002, Sen. Dorgan convened a meeting with the presidents of North Dakota state universities and colleges to propose a bold new program to draw millions of federal research dollars to North Dakota," Dorgan's website notes.

"Dorgan has directed more than $694 million in federal investments to cutting-edge research, development and commercialization projects in the Red River Valley Research Corridor since 2002."

Take the UAS mission at Grand Forks Air Force Base, which Dorgan and the delegation's other two members -- Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy -- helped secure. The same goes for Customs and Border Protection's UAS presence in the region.


Then there is the annual summit itself: "U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., will hold an 'action summit' Wednesday focusing on the potential economic, research and defense-related impacts unmanned aerial vehicles will have on Grand Forks and the Red River Valley Research Corridor," the Herald reported in March 2006.

Dorgan's influence and leverage put Grand Forks on the ground floor of a growth industry, and the people here have made the most of it. The nation has benefited, the industry has benefited and the city will never be the same.

Thanks, Senator, for the fuel that's powering the local engine's roar.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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