The Alleghany Highlands has enormous natural resources. Gorgeous views, beautiful trails, mountains, rivers and hospitality make it the ideal place to visit. Now, forward thinkers in the Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation want to take their natural assets and put them to work for a new group of visitors: drone businesses.
One unusual asset is an empty mine – no longer used: but safe, dark, and fascinating. At any time it’s interesting, but Alleghany Highlands Economic Development’s Executive Director Marla Akridge sees some more practical – and exciting – uses. As an indoor, GPS-deprived environment the empty mine could offer the perfect place for drone racing or recreational drone flying for enthusiasts. Or, more practical but no less exciting, it offers an ideal environment for testing new technologies or learning new flight techniques.
These ideas are being developed now, with the support of Virginia’s Governor and the Appalachian Regional Commission. With the recent announcement of an Appalachian Regional Commission Grant, the Alleghany Highlands Drone Zone is moving rapidly towards a reality that the drone industry can take advantage of. “These proposed projects will strategically invest in Virginia’s Appalachian communities,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball in a press release. “ARC grants are targeted to enhance community development initiatives and to be combined with other local, state, and federal resources to improve economic opportunity for Appalachian residents.”
The “Drone Zone” would be a public-private partnership with the city of Covington and Alleghany County. With the future development of a drone research and training facility, the Zone would serve a niche market of drone companies and operators from all verticals who need a place to fly and work.
The possibilities are almost limitless. Covington, VA is already host to the 6-year old Flying Circus FPV Festival, a recreational flying and racing event that draws hundred each year to the area – racing and entertainment flyers are already familiar with what Allegheny County has to offer. But the area’s forests, mine, and welcome mean that drone companies working on research and development for all verticals will want to see what the Drone Zone can provide. The county’s proximity to Virginia Tech and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, its FAA UAS Test Site, offers companies hoping to test new products another advantage.
It’s an exciting project, and one that shows the energy and innovation surrounding the industry. The Association for Unmanned Vehicles and Systems International, AUVSI, estimates that the drone industry will create over 100,000 jobs at an economic impact of over $13 billion. With that potential at stake, forward thinking counties around the country are planning to accommodate new business. While cities commonly offer more business facilities, rural areas have a lot of advantages for drones – including more open airspace and terrain for testing applications in forestry or agriculture. Alleghany County could be the first in their area to put their existing assets to use in a creative way – creating a perfect drone zone in the middle of a perfect landscape.