States Vie for a Lucrative Chunk of Emerging Drone Industry

WASHINGTON -- With hundreds of unmanned technology firms crammed into the massive exhibit hall at Washington's Convention Center this week, a handful of states hoping to lure the emerging technology to their home turf joined the exhibition booths at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference.

North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Minnesota were among the more than 600 exhibitors, urging attendees from across the world to take a look at their corner of the U.S. as a prime spot to set down roots and grow their drone business. Utah beckoned passers-by with a giant air-filled Bigfoot wielding a drone. And from our neighbors to the north, Alberta was bucking for business as well.

Over at the Idaho booth, which was backdropped with a sunny landscape photo and stocked with Idaho businessmen in the aviation industry, one adviser to the state's Department of Commerce said their focus is using the technology to benefit agriculture, water resources, fish and game, fire sciences and more.

"What works in one region may not work here," said Steve Edgar, president and CEO of aviation firm ADAVSO, stressing that they're promoting unmanned vehicles for uses that aid the welfare of their area.

He compared the benefits vs. privacy argument to the debate over the tradeoffs for TSA security.

"This is nothing new," Edgar said. "Concern for privacy is always at the forefront of new technology."

"We're pro-UAS business. We've been flying tests for 15 years," he added. "You want to see it used safely."

Commerce Director Jeff Sayer lauded the tech wave coming to his state and recommended that its integration be embraced.

"We see that as a wide-open opportunity," he said.

Sayer said it's essential to "assure citizens they would be protected" in terms of privacy rights and carefully move forward to "demonstrate to people, look, we're not crossing the line."

"If our entire nation embraced that, everyone would benefit," he said.

Being at the sprawling conference helps the unmanned systems industry "realize we really are a player," Sayer added.

AUVSI has estimated that the drone industry could create 100,000 jobs by 2025, depending on legislative efforts to stem the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Idaho has tried to get out in front of the privacy concerns by this spring becoming the second state in the nation to enact restrictions on unwarranted surveillance. By tackling privacy fears from the outset, the state hopes to concentrate on pressing forward with accelerated development of drone technology and testing.

droneidaho Commerce Department business attraction specialist Eric Forsch mans Idaho's booth.