Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Drone Industry Takes Off in North Dakota

What’s likely to be the nation’s first drone airport-business park complex will fully open its runways to private-sector traffic later this Spring, when unmanned flights raise off the tarmacs of this former Air Force training field in Grand Forks, ND.

That benchmark moment at the Grand Sky facility will advance North Dakota’s long-standing efforts to become a hub in the emerging Unmanned Aircraft Systems industry. The state has sunk over $34 million into programs, projects and infrastructure designed to lure drone aircraft manufacturers and their suppliers to America’s fourth least-populated state.

“North Dakota offers unique opportunities for innovation.”

The complex, planned and partly-constructed by the Grand Sky Development Company, occupies a 1.2 million acre site leased from the Air Force. Last September, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems and General Atomic’s Aeronautical Systems both broke ground on facilities slated to open later this year. An adjacent 220-acre build-to-suit site is currently seeking tenants, many of whom will be arriving by air and taxiing directly to their doors.

North Dakota’s Commerce Department has provided over $34 million in funds over the past several years to attract drone-related ventures, helping spur the emergence of an unmanned-aircraft cluster. Between 15 and 20 companies have taken root in the state, according to Brian Opp, who manages the state’s aerospace development program.

Source: Grand Sky/Icon Architectural Group
Architect’s rendering of Grand Sky. Source: Grand Sky/Icon Architectural Group

In addition to the facilities available at Grand Sky, Opp cites the location appeal of such resources as the University of North Dakota’s aeronautics school, a state-run testing program, and the state’s own largesse—nearly $3 million in research grants distributed so far. State officials also tout the region’s wide-open terrain which allows drones to fly unencumbered at altitudes above the height ceiling imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“North Dakota offers unique opportunities for innovation,” said Janis Pamiljans, senior vice president and general manager at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “Northrop Grumman is proud to partner in an area with a strong military presence, advanced university progams and residents open to cutting-edge professions. There is so much room for growth in North Dakota.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.