Political Commercial Puts Spotlight On N.D. Drone Company

Story courtesy of Forum News Service.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven thinks drone technology will be North Dakota’s “next big thing.” He shared his belief at the DroneFocus 2016 conference in Fargo this summer and reiterated it in a commercial he recently shot for his re-election campaign.

The commercial features Flight Pros, a drone business launched in March by Davenport, N.D., native Joey Schmit.
“Just like agriculture and energy, North Dakota is becoming a world leader in high tech, and the sky’s the limit,” Hoeven says as Schmit and his team fly drones over his head.

Schmit is somewhat of a local pioneer in drones. The 32-year-old built his first drone back in 2011 when he wanted to shoot video that would improve navigation of the disc golf courses he designed.

He realized the potential for the unmanned aircraft right away.

“I just love problem solving, and what’s great about the drone stuff is that there are so many problems they can solve,” he said.

Flight Pros specializes in real estate and promotional videos, but its primary focus is on creating maps and 3-D models.

While his team can produce survey-grade results, Schmit said he’s gotten some pushback from the local engineering community.

“Rightfully so, they’ve spent their life in this profession and want to protect it,” he said. “We want to team with these people. … We’re not out to replace anything. We see what we do as a supplement.”

Schmit often collaborates with Ryan Ottis, a classmate from Kindred (N.D.) High School. Ottis also operates drones through his business, SiteFlight 3D, which specializes in collecting topographical data for engineers. He has experienced resistance as well.

He said drones can be used to collect data in four hours that may have previously taken five days.

For instance, he said drones can be used to take inventory for aggregate companies. In the past, they were forced to send a guy up the pile to walk across it with a GPS.

“That could take a week,” Ottis said. “Plus, you’re sending a guy walking across where he can get hurt. We have a safer technique. That’s how we’ve really been trying to market ourselves.”

Schmit hopes to further legitimize his business by hiring or partnering with a certified engineer.

Ottis and Schmit agree that engineers will eventually be forced to embrace the technology.

“In the real estate industry, getting that aerial perspective is becoming more the standard than the speciality,” Ottis said. “That’s where we feel the engineering side will go and we’re going to be on the cutting edge of that.”

‘Entrepreneurial spirit’

Schmit said he got his entrepreneurial spirit from his dad, Mike Schmit, who owns Schmitty’s Welding in Fargo and Schmitty’s Deer Processing in Davenport.

“I’ve worked for him my whole life. I don’t want to take over the welding shop, per se, but I think he has given me an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s really what’s driven me. I’ve seen my dad and how he’s been successful. It’s about doing good work and making really good connections with customers,” he said.

Schmit is excited about the future of drones, but admits his main concern is that all operators fly responsibly.

“For every person that operates irresponsibly and creates a story, it kicks me back. This is the way to support a family, so it’s a big deal. When there is bad news, it’s a big deal for the community and for us in general,” he said.