Oregon commits $1.6M to drone test site

Business Oregon is investing in the Pendleton drone test range in an effort to stay on the cutting edge of an emerging market.

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Business Oregon is investing in the Pendleton drone test range in an effort to stay on the cutting edge of an emerging market.

The $1.6 million dollars will help secure four to six box hangers, improved communications systems, customer storage and security fencing, OregonLive.com reports.

The construction is expected to finish by the beginning February 2016. Pendleton will foot the remaining $146,000 of the $1.8 buildout. After that, the test range will continue expanding as money is available, including building an industrial park.

Oregon is one of 12 states with federally-approved drone test ranges. Oregon’s three test sites — Pendleton, Tillamook and the Warm Springs Reservation — are allowed through a partnership with the University of Alaska, which holds the federal permission. Sean Robbins of state agency Business Oregon said he hopes to invest in Tillamook and Warm Springs, too, but Pendleton is the farthest along.

Gov. Kate Brown announced the funding during her trip to Pendleton Friday.

The East Oregonian reports:

Business Oregon Director Sean Robbins followed her announcement with one of his own. Through the infrastructure finance authority, Business Oregon would add another $1,115,000 million to the pot, bringing the total value of the financial package to nearly $1.7 million. Technically, the package is entirely comprised of loans. But more than $1 million of those loans are forgivable given the city meets certain job creation, promotional and timeline requirements. Both Brown and Robbins praised city officials for their work in getting the range off the ground and said Pendleton would help keep the state competitive in the emerging UAS market.

“I’d like to make sure that Oregon gets a little more than their fair share,” Robbins said.

Oregon is not keeping up with the rapidly growing drone market, Robbins told the Portland Business Journal. “We as a state have fallen behind despite the fact we have more natural advantages than competitors.”

“I want Oregon to capture more than its fair share,” he said. “We have as a state decided that this $1.6 million we are putting into the Pendleton range to move to Phase Two development is the most catalytic role we can play at a government level in order to advance the industry.”

The challenge with these ranges is building out the infrastructure as well as securing the skilled personnel needed to run them. This sentiment was echoed last month by SOAROregon executive director Mark Morrison. Morrison’s group is an advocacy organization made up of public and private interests aimed at supporting and growing Oregon’s UAV industry. The federal designation did not come with federal money. Morrison noted the test sites have more interest than they can accommodate and more state investment is needed.


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