Hoeven, Berg, City and Air Base Leaders Hold Roundtable on BRIC/UAV Strategies in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Sen. John Hoeven, Rep. Rick Berg, Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown, Grand Forks County Commission John Schmisek, base retention supporter John Marshall; and leaders from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, UND Aerospace and local economic development organizations held a roundtable meeting in Grand Forks today to address base transition and growth strategies for the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the community of Grand Forks. The group is working to build new missions for the base after the loss of the tanker mission.

Providing briefings were Grand Forks Air Force Base Wing Commander Col. Don Shaffer and Director of the UND Unmanned Aerial Systems Center of Excellence Al Palmer. Also participating were City Administrator Rick Duquette; BRIC member Bill Lee; Center for Innovation Director Bruce Gjovig; Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Klaus Thiessen; President & CEO Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce President Barry Wilfahrt; BRIC Coordinator Sheila Bruhn; and John Priddy, Customs and Border Protection; Sen. Kent Conrad’s Office was represented by Shelly Klein.

Air Base Wing Commander Col. Don Shaffer outlined the UAS, or RPA, mission emerging at the base, which has the potential to grow the base’s population and enhance private sector opportunities for the region. Local, state and federal officials are working together to expand that mission by leveraging resources like UND Aerospace, Customs and Border Protection, the state’s Centers of Excellence Program, the National Guard and other means.


Former Gen. Al Palmer, Director of the UND Unmanned Aerial Systems Center of Excellence, said the Center is currently working to get its Predator Training program up and running as soon as possible. The center is now working to develop new training programs for the Air Force, which he believes could help UND Aerospace land new training missions in the future. The North Dakota Centers of Excellence Program under Gov. Hoeven provided funding for the UAS Center in 2006.

“We have a number of opportunities to build new missions, both military and commercial, but we’re going to have to leverage all of our resources – UND Aerospace, the National Guard, the private sector and others – to make it happen,” Hoeven said. “Budgetary pressures are impacting all federal programs, including military programs, which means we’re going to have to make a very strong case for expanding our missions.”

Shaffer predicted that the active duty population of the air base would shrink from 1,800 to 1,700, and then rebound if new missions emerge over the next several years. Klaus Thiessen, President of the Grand Forks Economic Development Council said the current mission has 130 private-sector jobs attached to it, with the potential for more.

“We need to continue to work collaboratively to support the new mission, and leverage all of our resources to make it happen,” Hoeven said.