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Grand Sky

Developers of ND UAS tech park promise speedy project

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Officials from the company in charge of developing the Grand Sky unmanned aircraft systems tech park at Grand Forks Air Force Base recently paid a visit to the area.

Tom Swoyer, the president of Texas-based Grand Sky Development Co., said he's looking forward to the future of the project.

"That's something the county knew they were getting with us: a lot of energy, a lot of engagement and a lot of speed," he said.

His company will be in charge of recruiting tenants and developing the 217 acres the county leased from base after another company backed away from the deal.

The layout of the park looks sparse on paper now, Swoyer said, because the buildings were planned out so the surrounding wetlands were disturbed as little as possible.

"It made it better for the base, better for us, and made the development plan simpler," he said. "Our goal is to not only build an economically sustainable park but an environmentally sustainable park."

Swoyer said he also wants to incorporate educational space and classrooms within the office buildings so the park can be used in partnership with UAS educators from surrounding institutions, such as the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, Minn.

"Initially it's catering to the UAS industry itself, but an educational component is absolutely a big part of what we want to do," Swoyer said. "We hope to take advantage of our relationships with our educational partners and create an educational component."

His ultimate goal is to one day build a data-processing center so the information collected from unmanned aircraft can be evaluated on-site.

Grand Sky Development helped early on with the project's proposal in 2011 but ultimately wasn't chosen for the job.

Now that it's back, Swoyer said his company is "absolutely thrilled" and plans to complete the project as quickly as possible.

But the Air Force still has to approve the contract with Grand Sky Development Co. and County Commissioner John Schmisek said he doesn't know how long that will take.

"We'll just wait and see," he said.

If the deal goes smoothly, Swoyer said he hopes to begin work on the hangars and office space the park needs as soon as possible. A turning lane into the base where the park will be located is already under construction.

Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor, is still slated to be the first tenant at Grand Sky.