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The dirt flies Thursday as representatives from Northrop Grumman, Grand Sky, the state of North Dakota and others use shovels as part of Northrop Grumman's groundbreaking ceremony. Brandi Jewett/Forum News Service

Northrop Grumman breaks ground on $10 million facility near Grand Forks

Brisk North Dakota winds greeted guests Thursday in the midst of an active construction site for Northrop Grumman's groundbreaking ceremony near Grand Forks.

The defense contractor became the first tenant of Grand Sky business and technology park to turn up topsoil, even if it was with ceremonial shovels and not a backhoe. It's the latest in a series of firsts for the company, as it was the first to provide a letter of intent and sign a lease with the business park.

Janis Pamiljans, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's unmanned systems division, was on hand for the milestone, which marks the start of construction on a $10 million, 36,000-square-foot facility at Grand Sky. The facility will employ about 100 people once completed and will be used for research, training and other operations.

"This is a big deal for us," Pamiljans said. "This is a big deal for the company, it's a big deal for North Dakota and it's a big deal for the war fighters."

Northrop Grumman manufactures the Global Hawk, a large unmanned aircraft used by the U.S. military for surveillance operations. A fleet of the aircraft have been stationed next door to the park at Grand Forks Air Force Base, the first of which arrived in 2011.

Northrop Grumman's Grand Sky facility is an expansion of its presence in North Dakota, one that spans 45 years, according to Pamiljans. The company has operated a manufacturing facility in New Town, N.D., that has produced fiber optic cables and wire harnesses for the company's aircraft since 1970.

The company's newest addition will be part of more than $300 million in development expected to take place at Grand Sky in the coming years.

"You look out here, you see some concrete, you see some trucks working, you see some excavation--there's going to be a lot more of that," U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D, said.

Hoeven, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., have actively been involved in recruiting firms such as Northrop Grumman to North Dakota.

Seeing the payoff is incredible, Heitkamp said.

"None of this was going to happen without an anchor tenant," she said of Grand Sky. "Northrop Grumman has really stepped up and made a major investment. ... It's great to see it all come together."

Thursday's event marks the second groundbreaking this season at Grand Sky, the first being for the park itself.

"Northrop Grumman's groundbreaking represents yet another milestone for Grand Sky," said Tom Swoyer Jr., president of Grand Sky Development Co.

Northrop Grumman's groundbreaking likely won't be the last this year, as General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, another unmanned aircraft manufacturer, also has signed a lease with the park for a training facility.

General Atomics announced last month it plans to construct a 16,000-square-foot training academy at Grand Sky and said it would like to break ground this fall in order to have the academy operational by next year.

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