In the air of North Dakota, farms are welcoming more and more drones

One of the least populated states in the country, with around 775,000 inhabitants, is betting on the future of commercial drones, autonomous agriculture and cybersecurity education.

North Dakota is notable for its badlands and flat land, but above the sky – 60,000 feet, to be exact – drones are being tested so they can possibly deliver high-tech medical equipment and specialty drugs to the remote outposts of the 19th largest state by land size.

To help them get there, the Biden administration’s $14.2 billion plan aims to bring high-speed, low-cost internet to every corner of the United States through 20 providers, including AT&T Inc. T,
Comcast Corp. CMCSA,
and Verizon Communications Inc. VZ,

North Dakota’s economy is “off the rails, with an urgency to shift demand for cleaner fuels,” said James Leiman, commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Commerce. “We want people to know that we are more than ‘Fargo,’ the 1996 crime thriller that won two Oscars.

North Dakota and its largest city are reshaping their heritage with $40 billion in projects announced and another $20 billion in the works. The state’s gross domestic product was $55.7 billion last year. The wave of major deals is led by Cerilon Inc.’s plan to develop a major gas-liquids complex with an initial phase estimated at $2.8 billion, and the construction of the $1.9 billion Atlas Power data center. of dollars which will be built by FX Solutions Inc. .

“Since forever, we’ve been this big white space up north that no one has reached, and we’re okay with that,” says state-native Steve Kemp, founder of Wellspring Hydro, which is developing a plant $220 million wastewater treatment project in Trenton. , ND, for 2025.

Kemp and others credit the recent string of success to Republican Governor Doug Burgum, who as CEO of Great Plains Software sold it to Microsoft Corp. MSFT,
for $1.1 billion in 2001. Fargo remains Microsoft’s second-largest campus in the United States, with approximately 2,000 employees.

“The global investment community and markets are demanding low-carbon energy,” Burgum said recently. “North Dakota is well positioned to be a global leader and a coveted location for companies looking to grow and address the many factors currently shaping the future of energy.”

In the skies above, North Dakota airspace is populated by Northrop Grumman Corp. NOC,
The RQ-4 GlobalHawk and General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are tested for military and commercial use.

One particularly intriguing commercial use is in rural health care.

Thomas Swoyer Jr., president of Grand Sky, the nation’s first fully operational commercial UAS (unmanned aerial system) research and development park, envisions the delivery of highly sophisticated medical equipment and specialty cardiac drugs via cargo drones in remote areas of the state.

“This is a state that wants to grow beyond agriculture and energy,” Swoyer says. “These are vital and important industries, but it’s equally important to take advantage of the strong aviation ecosystem here and have it flourish and expand into other operations.”

New investments in the state often come to “those who think 2, 3, 4 steps ahead of the market coming in,” Swoyer added. “The state listens to those of us who anticipate the future.”

Autonomous vehicles in the air and on the ground are crucial in a large, sparsely populated state like North Dakota.

The Grand Farm Education and Research Initiative, which specializes in researching and developing future tools for farms, talks to manufacturers of driverless trucks, tractors and diggers to help farmers maximize their harvests without expensive investments. “We like to think of ourselves as the money ball of agriculture,” says Brian Carroll, director of Grand Farm.

On 40 acres that serve as a test site, Grand Farm brings together farmers, tech companies, universities and government agencies to come up with the “hairy and bold goal” of digitally transforming crop and livestock production, according to Carroll. Its solutions aim to feed more people, make better forecasts of volatile weather conditions, minimize crop diseases and tackle a recent increase in ransomware aimed at agricultural cooperatives. The initiative has forged partnerships with Microsoft, Alphabet Inc.’s Google GOOGL,

North Dakota State University, Palo Alto Networks Inc. PANW,
and others.

Up the freeway in Fargo, Kevin Biffert’s startup 701x helped create. startup helped create an electronic tag to track livestock. The tag, attached to a cow’s ear, monitors its movements and health status via Verizon technology. If successful in the Midwest, Biffert plans to increase production and tackle the No. 1 livestock market in Brazil.

“There aren’t a lot of successful entrepreneurs in the state,” Biffert says. “But as Fargo becomes successful, it will lead to more interactions between startups, industries, and government officials.”

Be More Colorful, an Internet marketing service that provides virtual reality content on jobs and college campuses, is an example of private startups and government agencies coming together.

The videos focus on workforce development experiences for potential careers in petroleum engineering, welding and other vocations, says company CEO Matt Chaussee. “There’s a lot of work on cool VR hardware, but not a lot of content,” he said. “That’s where we come in.”

But Be More Colorful, which plans to triple its content library to around 70 job categories next year, only got its start when Matt and his wife, Katie, sold their house and moved into an apartment. with their two children and their dog.

Jim Higgins, co-founder and COO of Airtonomy Inc., one of the few software companies in the Fargo area, can identify. The company, which develops drone data management software, managed to raise $10.9 million despite having no contributions from coastal venture capitalists.

“The VC told me, ‘If I have to hop on a plane to visit you, forget it,'” Higgins said of the funding denial.

However, with more than $60 billion in projects coming to the state, along with increased high-speed internet access, local entrepreneurs are sensing a shift in investor attitudes. They just need to do a better job of informing the rest of the country, says a state official.

“North Dakota needs to do a better job of promoting; we’re just not good at marketing ourselves, we’re very humble,” says Shawn Riley, chief information officer for the North Dakota State Department of Information Technology.

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