Virginia gets investment for drone workforce

Virginia gets investment for drone workforce

As part of the White House’s initiative to improve the economy in coal country, select counties in southwest Virginia are getting funding to help them build a workforce of drone operators.


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The administration’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization program helps areas negatively affected by the changes in the coal and power industries by investing in training and economic development. POWER awarded a $2.2 million grant to the Industrial Development Authority in Wise, Va., for the Virginia Emerging Drone Industry Cluster Project, according to the White House blog.

The grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)  will allow the area’s Mountain Empire Community College to offer courses on drone operations and sensors, which will help support the emerging industry drone cluster in southwest Virginia. The award will leverage $15 million in other investments, and Aurora Flight Sciences will provide $880,000 of in-kind matching support.

The program will last three years and the Aurora Flight Sciences and Drone Airspace Management (DAM) will administer course curriculums and drone technology, according to a report in Unmanned Aerial Online.

The program will cover both large and small unmanned aerial vehicles. It will start with smaller drones because the recent Federal Aviation Administration regulations make it easier to use small drones for commercial applications like cellphone tower inspections, DAM Principal Avery L. Brown told GCN. Through the program, Brown explained, students and professionals can learn about sensor operating and the data the drones collect.

Besides training drone workers, the award will allow Aurora Flight Services to perform work on a major contract National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to Brown, Aurora’s Centaur aircraft will be taking gravity measurements for the  NOAA’s GRAV-D project. The more precise data collected from the drone will increase the accuracy of elevation measurements. The contract is expected to create 210 new direct and indirect jobs.

Along with supporting NOAA’s GRAV-D project, the drone cluster project will focus on other UAV applications like inspecting utility poles, cellphone towers and other infrastructure, which may even include mines, according to a spokesperson from ARC. 

The International Institute for Sustainable Development recently reported that the mining industry could lose more than half of its jobs to automation, which could increase the demand for workers with specialized skills in automated systems.

This award to Wise’s Industrial Development Authority was part of the second round of POWER initiative grants, which totaled $28 million and will support 42 economic and workforce development projects in 13 states. POWER involves 10 federal agencies that help areas affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply-chain industries. 

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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