Already home to military drone testing, Tooele County officials are working on attracting commercial drone testing with high-tech jobs to the county.
County Commissioner Shawn Milne, along with Mitch Zundel, Box Elder County’s economic development director, incorporated UAS in Utah, a nonprofit organization in September 2017.
UAS in Utah was set up with Box Elder County officials to promote a collaborative effort, according to Milne. UAS stands for Unmanned Aerial Systems, according to the organization’s Articles of Incorporation.
“We needed an organization to receive grant money and other contributions to coordinate the efforts for a test site for drone command and control systems,” Milne said. “Think of it as an niche economic development tool.”
A drone is an aircraft without a human pilot onboard, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Military drone testing in the county is done at Dugway Proving Ground.
During the 2018 general legislative session, the state Legislature approved a $1.2 million appropriation for Tooele County to attract and develop a drone testing facility. Milne said the money would soon be directed to the nonprofit organization that he and Zundel incorporated by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
“Deseret UAS will use the appropriation to find and enter into a master lease for airspace over a suitable area in Tooele County,” Milne said. “Then we will market the county and the airspace to businesses to come to Tooele County and set up testing.”
Milne uses Deseret UAS as his preferred name for UAS in Utah. An official name change is in the process, according to MIlne.
Box Elder County is pursuing payload and sensor testing of commercial drones while Tooele County is pursuing the testing of commercial drone command and control, according to Milne.
According to the Articles of Incorporation for UAS in Utah, Milne is the president, Zundel is the secretary, and Tooele County Recorder Jerry Houghton is the vice president.
Other UAS in Utah directors include Box Elder County Commissioner Jeff Hadfield and Mike Newton, a program manager with Layton-based Logistics Specialties, a business and economic development consulting firm.
The use of nonprofit organizations to steer economic development is not without precedent. Box Elder County used a nonprofit organization for the Orbital ATK project, according to Milne.
Also, the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development founded and supports the nonprofit organization, the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, to operate and oversee the daily operations and management of unmanned aerial system test sites and ranges.
Milne said he and other UAS in Utah directors receive no compensation for their service on the nonprofit organization’s board of directors.
If UAS in Utah is successful it will be the fulfillment of an economic development dream for Milne.
“For years I have wanted to bring an economic development project to Tooele that would be able to provide jobs with high enough pay to keep our younger generation in the county,” Milne said.
The UAS command and control center testing would provide well paying, high-tech jobs, he said.
“We use taxpayer money to educate our youth and then we have to send them somewhere else to find work and to become taxpayers themselves,” Milne said. “It would be nice if we could keep them here with a steady job that pays enough to support a family, kind of like we used to with the smelter or with the army depot.”