North Dakota Plans a Drone Silicon Valley

For many years state governments and universities have been trying to plan the creation of new Silicon Valleys in their own backyards. Success has been elusive. Now North Dakota is tying to create a drone Silicon Valley. My take: Silicon Valleys cannot be planned, though they can be encouraged by low taxes and limited regulations.

(p. A1) FARGO, N.D. — “California and New York want what we’ve got,” said Shawn Muehler, a 30-year-old Fargo resident, gazing at a horizon of empty fields, silos, windbreak trees and hardly any people. A winged craft traces the air, mapping a field with pinpoint accuracy for his start-up, a drone software company called Botlink. “They like drones, but they’ve got a steep learning curve ahead.”

For years, entrepreneurs have come here to farm and to drill for oil and natural gas. Now a new, tech-savvy generation is grabbing a piece of the growing market for drone technology and officials want to help them do it here, where there is plenty of open space and — unlike in other sparsely populated states — lots of expertise already in place.
Silicon Valley has the big money and know-how, Mr. Muehler and others say, but North Dakota can take unmanned aerial vehicles, as the officials prefer to call drones, from a fast-growing hobby to an industry. And just as Silicon Valley got its start with military contracts, entrepreneurs and cooperative universities, they believe they can do the same with drones.
“The potential up here is tremendous,” said Jack Dalrymple, the state’s governor. “It’s not about supporting a company or two; it’s creating the leading edge of an industry.”
North Dakota has spent about (p. B7) $34 million fostering the state’s unmanned aerial vehicle business, most notably with a civilian industrial park for drones near Grand Forks Air Force Base. The base, a former Cold War installation, now flies nothing but robot aircraft for the United States military and Customs and Border Protection.

For the full story, see:
QUENTIN HARDY. “A Silicon Valley for Drone Craft in Great Plains.” The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 26, 2015): A1 & B7.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 25, 2015, and has the title “A Silicon Valley for Drones, in North Dakota.”)

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