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Aviation business park marks year since lease signing, Grand Sky gearing up for more construction as officials look to recruit more tenants

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- It's been a big year for Grand Sky, and project officials hope the next one is even bigger. The lease for the business park focused on unmanned aircraft was signed a year ago today by Grand Forks Air Force Base, Grand Forks C...

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- It's been a big year for Grand Sky, and project officials hope the next one is even bigger.

The lease for the business park focused on unmanned aircraft was signed a year ago today by Grand Forks Air Force Base, Grand Forks County and Grand Sky Development Co.

In the 12 months since the signing, miles of gas lines, water pipes and electrical wiring has been laid and tons of asphalt and gravel removed.

"Our development is ahead of schedule, but we're not declaring victory," Grand Sky Development President Tom Swoyer Jr. said Wednesday. "We've got to get tenants up and running this year and get buildings built."

Swoyer spoke about the park's progress at Prairie Buzz, a monthly event held at the University of North Dakota Center for Innovation featuring speakers in the unmanned aircraft industry.

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Buildings have yet to rise above the dirt at Grand Sky, but unmanned aircraft have been flying around the site and taking video of construction progress. Swoyer said more than 40 flights--piloted by Grand Forks startup business SkySkopes--have taken place since the park's groundbreaking in September.

Two tenants, manufacturing giants Northrop Grumman and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, also broke ground last fall.

On Wednesday, Swoyer announced General Atomics had received permission from the Air Force to begin construction on a temporary hangar that is expected to be operational for flight training in April, though the construction start still needs approval from Grand Forks County Commission.

In all, three buildings are slated for construction on the 217-acre site this year, with more possible if additional tenants commit.

"I hope to announce three more tenant leases this year," Swoyer said. "I'm not going to divulge company names, but we're hoping to announce three more this year and planning and maybe even starting facility construction for one or two of them."

The park's gate and security center also are set to be completed, with security services staffed by the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department.

Swoyer estimates about 257 construction jobs have been created as a result of the project, with $6.8 million spent on infrastructure so far.

When the four phases of construction are complete, estimates put the total cost of construction at $200 million to $300 million and the number of jobs created at 3,000.

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