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A rendering of the Grand Sky UAS business park at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Submitted image

Northrop Grumman signs Grand Sky lease

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Northrop Grumman has made it official.

The major aerospace and defense company plans to break ground on a facility in the new Grand Sky unmanned aerial systems tech park in September after signing a lease Monday, North Dakota's U.S. senators announced Tuesday. Northrop Grumman will be Grand Sky's anchor tenant, which officials hope will spur additional development in the park.

"As a leader in the aerospace industry, Northrop Grumman is an ideal partner and anchor tenant for Grand Sky," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement. Northrop Grumman makes the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.

The news is not necessarily a surprise since the company signed a letter of intent last year. Hoeven said he had contacted company officials six weeks ago to check on the project's status, and Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush told him Tuesday they had signed the lease with Grand Sky Development Co. Monday.

"No deal is done until it's signed," Hoeven said in an interview. "Something can always happen right up until it's done. This is a major step."

The lease is awaiting approval from Grand Forks County and the Air Force, said Tom Swoyer, president of Grand Sky Development Co. Lease terms weren't disclosed.

The Air Force is leasing the land for the Grand Sky UAS park to Grand Forks County, which in turn is leasing the land to Grand Sky Development Co. The park is on a 217-acre parcel adjacent to Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Northrop Grumman's three-phase project will include an office building, a hangar, followed by additional office space, Hoeven said. Employees are scheduled to occupy the first office building by September 2016.

Northrop Grumman's lease covers 10 acres, company spokeswoman Rene Freeland said. She said the company's plans include research and development, flight tests and training, light manufacturing and other operations.

"Nothing is set in stone," she said. "In working with North Dakota and the Air Force base there, that's what will shape what will actually be done there."

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., called Northrop Grumman's lease a "critical and necessary step in this process."

"One of the things we knew all along is that it was important to bring in an anchor tenant," she said in an interview. She lauded local officials for supporting the project.

Swoyer said attracting the first tenant to such a project is always the hardest.

"From there, now it makes it a little bit easier for others to make the business decision to go to Grand Sky," he said. "As more companies go out there, there's more value for more companies to get there."

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., welcomed the news and said an official with another aerospace company, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, will visit the Grand Forks area and Grand Sky in July.

The announcement came on the same day that the North Dakota Senate passed a bill that includes $7.5 million for infrastructure at Grand Sky. That's more than the House or Gov. Jack Dalrymple recommended for the project.

Dalrymple's office said $2.5 million appropriated during the last session is now available because a lease agreement has been reached with a Grand Sky tenant.

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