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Drones and the Economy

By Luke Geiver | October 27, 2016

Name a state that hasn’t made some type of investment into unmanned aircraft systems. The FAA-designated test site states certainly have a stake in the UAS sector. But so do so many others (nearly all).

This week, Virginia upped its involvement in the UAS space.

Virginia’s plan:

In a move to build his state’s new economy, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, has approved a $2.2 million grant to the Wise County Industrial Development Authority’s Virginia Emerging Drone Industry Cluster Project. The money will be used to “position five counties in Southwest Virginia as a national destination for the development of a drone-operator workforce to support the emerging drone industry in the U.S.,” according to the governor’s office.

“Wise County put itself on the map in the drone world over a year ago by successfully making the first medical package delivery by drone anywhere in the world in the U.S.,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA. The grant could bolster the region as a hub for UAS, he added.

The grant will help Mountain Empire Community College build out a UAS program. The state believes the college will create 64 corporate workers and 80 college students over three years, along with $15 million in leveraged private investment and $1.2 million in annual workforce training revenues.

Aurora Flight Sciences has already pledged $880,000 of in-kind support to the program. The Appalachian Regional Commission pledged the original $2.2 million, in part to help diversify economies in coal-impacted communities.

It is clear that in the past two years, drones have become a part of the U.S. economy, either through operational integration or as a mechanism to spur on growth. Two year’s worth of stories similar to the Virginia story mentioned above prove why.

It doesn’t appear that drones have gained the same status as renewable energy—including solar and wind—has gained in the nation’s view and conversation on promising and new economic drivers. At least not yet.