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With Unmanned Systems Taking Off, States Capitalize on the Opportunity

Tax incentives, skilled employees help attract companies

March 16, 2017

As changing federal regulations and technology advancements continue to drive the unmanned systems and robotics industry, including drones, a number of individual U.S. states are focused on business development efforts, designed to nurture and drive innovation in the sector.  

Drones – or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – are big business. According to a report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) on the industry’s economic impact, in the first three years of UAS integration into the nation’s airspace, more than 70,000 jobs will be created in the U.S. with an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion. This benefit will grow during the next 10 years with more than 100,000 jobs created and an economic impact of $82 billion. No wonder states are eager to attract companies in the drone space. 

States offer a variety of tax and financial incentives to companies working in unmanned systems, but equally important is a base of educated, skilled employees. For that reason, many of the states that are successful in attracting companies already have an established aerospace or aviation industry. This allows companies to hire workers with the right skills, leverage existing infrastructure in the state, and work with regulators and lawmakers who understand their opportunities and challenges. 

Kansas is one example. The state currently produces over 70 percent of the general aviation aircraft in the world and boasts world-renowned research, suppliers, and a skilled aerospace workforce. Ohio, which says it is the number one supplier to Boeing and Airbus, is also home to contractors and manufacturers across the aeronautical research and development sector. 

Universities Drive Investment in UAS

Universities are also leading the charge in unmanned systems. For example, researchers at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute are developing and testing innovative applications for advancing the industry, including an automated and connected transportation system testing facility and a variety of urban test beds. At the University of Colorado Boulder, the Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) is a university, government, and industry partnership dedicated to the development and application of unmanned vehicle systems.

Degree programs focused on training and educating the next generation of innovators in the UAS sector are also driving opportunity in individual states. University of North Dakota offers a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics with a major in UAS operations. And in Nevada, UNLV has an interdisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and policy and legal experts, as well as an undergraduate minor, focused on UAS. Everyone working on these programs at the campus in Las Vegas are poised to contribute to Nevada’s UAS industry, which the state estimates could have an economic impact of $2.5 billion to $8 billion.

Test Sites Attract Innovators

Test sites naturally draw interest and investment to a state’s UAS industry. According to the FAA, “Selected in December 2013, the UAS Test Sites support UAS integration by providing an avenue for the UAS industry and stakeholder community to conduct more advanced UAS research and operational concept validation.”

The FAA has selected test sites in Alaska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. Other states have launched their own, like the University of Maryland UAS Test Site that was established with the help of partnerships with Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), industry, academia and government agencies. 

UAS Industry at the Launch Point

There’s a great deal of activity gearing up in the UAS industry. With recent federal regulations enabling commercial and civil operations, universities training the innovators of the future, and state governments investing in jobs, training and business development, we anticipate a huge growth curve over the next 10 years.  We can’t wait to see where this industry goes. 

AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL 2017 takes place in Dallas May 8 to 11. These states will exhibit and discuss their initiatives at the upcoming conference:

  • Colorado: UAS Colorado is a non-profit industry advocacy group that is committed to promoting and growing the commercial drone industry in Colorado.
  • Kansas: Kansas Aviation is heavily invested in UAS, and will host business and technology experts that currently produce over 70 percent of general aviation aircraft in the world. 
  • Maryland: Unmanned and autonomous vehicles are at work today across Maryland, with farmers, watermen, infrastructure inspection, the medical and first responder communities, and many others.
  • Nevada: The Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) encourages business relationships, collaboration with primary research institutions, and helping enhance the UAS industry knowledge base in order to attract new and permanent business within the state of Nevada.
  • North Dakota: To date, North Dakota has invested over $37 million for UAS initiatives and is collaborating with public and private partners to advance the industry.
  • Ohio: Home to the world capital of aeronautical research and development, Ohio also offers the first site to fly UAS beyond-visual-line-of-sight in the National Airspace Systems (NAS), hosts the annual UAS Midwest Conference, and is the heartland of the advanced manufacturing and aerospace industry in the U.S.
  • Texas: The Lone Star Corral will feature operational, technical, research and development, and community development discussions with developers and academics that are driving the UAS industry in Texas.
  • Utah: Since 1987, EDCUtah has worked with state and local government and private industry to attract and grow competitive, high-value companies and spur the expansion of local Utah businesses.

More than 7,000 industry leaders and professionals from more than 55 countries are expected to attend XPONENTIAL 2017. The exhibit hall will showcase more than 650 cutting-edge companies from around the world, representing more than 20 industries.

Registration for XPONENTIAL 2017 has opened. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/2jgeaLQ  


The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) — the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics — represents more than 7,500 members from more than 60 countries involved in the fields of government, industry and academia. AUVSI members work in the defense, civil and commercial markets.

Featured image: XPONENTIAL
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