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Air Force to OK lease for tech park at Grand Forks base

GRAND FORKS - The Air Force will sign a lease with Grand Forks County in December, allowing a technology park for unmanned aircraft to be built at Grand Forks Air Force Base, the state's congressional leaders and the governor said Thursday.

"The Enhanced Use Lease program will diversify the Grand Forks County employment base and provide financial and operational support to the Grand Forks Air Force Base," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said. "We look forward to continuing to work with the county on this program going forward."

The county would lease 217 acres at the base for 50 years in exchange for payments. The business park, dubbed "Grand Sky," will be home to firms specializing in research and development of technology for unmanned aircraft systems.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in November that the project could create 2,700 jobs.

"It is great news that the Air Force and Grand Forks County came together for this mutually beneficial lease," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement. "This arrangement will be a positive development for the entire Grand Forks area, as it will continue to grow its Unmanned Aerial Systems industry."

Hoeven said in statement Thursday that having the tech park would bolster the state's chances of becoming one of the federal government's six test sites where unmanned and manned aircraft can mix.

John Schmisek, a Grand Forks County Commissioner, said that, conversely, having the test sites could help drive development at Grand Sky.

So far, Northrop Grumman Corp., an aerospace and defense company, has committed to being the tech park's anchor tenant.

Schmisek said a private developer for Grand Sky could be named Oct. 30. The lease payments will be passed onto the developer, he said.

But getting the lease signed is key, he said. "It's very critical."