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Published January 06, 2011, 06:09 PM

GF Leaders Hope To Cash In On Multi-Billion Dollar Business

Grand Forks city leaders are flying high about news that the U.S is expected to spend more than $12.5 billion on unmanned aircraft by 2015 and globally $80 billion by 2019.

Grand Forks city leaders are flying high about news that the U.S is expected to spend more than $12.5 billion on unmanned aircraft by 2015 and globally $80 billion by 2019.

Eric Icard with the Grand Forks Economic Development Corporation is heading up an effort to bring UAS businesses to Grand Forks.

Icard says, “This study is larger than the numbers I anticipated. The numbers I'd seen were projected to be $11.5 billion, but that wasn't until 2019, so this is far greater.”

It's even greater news because Grand Forks and University of North Dakota leaders have been working to make the area a center for UAS.

Al Palmer, the UND Center for UAS Director, says, “The University of North Dakota has the first four year degree program.”

Icard says, “We've seen a lot of growth just with the local talent.”

It’s growth that's surpassed Icard's goals. In 2010 he was hoping for two new companies, but instead there were five.

“Another metric was to have an intelligence training center, and fortunately the Base Realignment Impact Committee put forward some funds that will help make that a reality,” says Icard.

Of course, others are starting to get UAS programs off the ground.

“You've got New Mexico State, Kansas State, Salina, Kansas,” says Palmer.

Still, Palmer, says UND has the top unmanned aircraft program in the nation. “UND is well-positioned, and we're playing a leadership role there.”

A role Palmer and Icard hope to keep as unmanned aircraft become a multi-billion dollar business.

Palmer says, “Austria is heavily into unmanned aircraft. We just had a simulator manufacturer from Israel locate here in Grand Forks at the Center of Innovation. The Italians, the Germans, the British are all into unmanned aircraft.”

“In three years I'd like to see 300 employees, outside of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, but 300 employees tied to UAS with a payroll of $12 million,” says Icard.

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