FARGO, N.D. — It wasn’t politicians and lobbyists that assembled for Drew Wrigley’s last speech as lieutenant governor of North Dakota.
Instead, a host of entrepreneurs gathered Dec. 14 at a Drone Focus meetup heard Wrigley recount progress he has seen the unmanned aircraft systems industry make in the years since his election in 2010. Joining him for the farewell recognition was N.D. Department of Commerce Commissioner Alan Anderson, appointed to his position in 2011 by then Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
Both men are heralded as champions of the industry and are leaving public office this month as a new administration prepares to take over.
During Anderson and Wrigley’s time of service, North Dakota has gained a national reputation as a hub of drone business activity, with state initiatives such as the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and business ventures like Grand Sky aviation and business park capturing headlines and paving the way for more industry growth.
“We’re the fastest growing state in America. There’s all these new people coming here. A new generation, but they’re the same kind of folks — pioneers,” Wrigley said. “Now, here’s the fastest growing component of aviation — drone technology — and all that it can mean for our existing industries, in energy, agriculture, in our needs as a big state to check on our roadways and our railways and everything else. It’s the perfect, absolute perfect fit. And it’s happening in the right place with the right people.”
Since 2005, the state has invested more than $37 million into economic development and research grants focusing on unmanned aircraft, with much of that spending coming in the past several years. Research ND, a state-funded program facilitated by the commerce department, has provided support to nearly two dozen drone projects that span from law enforcement to energy to agricultural applications.
Wrigley told the crowd — who represented UAS startups, businesses integrating the technology into their operations and others — they could expect support for the industry to continue.
“The state of North Dakota has been committed and remains committed going forward, I can tell you that for sure about this next administration,” he said. “As of today, we’ve got $37 million invested into the physical infrastructure of the state, trying to promote North Dakota as the great place to be testing and creating drone technology.”
It’s easy to assume the new administration taking over for Wrigley and Dalrymple will keep development of unmanned aircraft systems as one of the state’s priority. Gov. Doug Burgum is a former Microsoft executive and an established entrepreneur while Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford served as mayor of Watford City, N.D. and has a business background.
That leadership combined with a growing group of entrepreneurs in the state were highlighted as a driving force to keep North Dakota on the map as a drone industry hub by Anderson.
“We’re going to have a nice, new, different look with technology being on the forefront here going forward,” he said to the Drone Focus crowd. “It’s going to be an exciting place in this state and feel comfortable turning it over to you guys.”