City, ERDC partnership could be the beginning of something bigger

Published 7:22 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2018

To borrow from the closing line of the movie “Casablanca,” “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

The agreement between the city of Vicksburg and the U.S. Army’s Engineering Research and Development Center allowing ERDC to train pilots and test drones at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport is a good start to a partnership that will definitely benefit both sides.

And South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour has already hinted at taking the city/ERDC relationship involving drones further.

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“What we’re working toward is building them a building out there big enough where they will be able to test their drones outside and bring them back inside and recalibrate and test them on the inside,” Monsour said. “This (the agreement) is just the first stage in working with them out at our airport to start testing their drones.”

But beyond the realm of intergovernmental cooperation, this partnership conjures up all kinds of possibilities for future economic development.

With the city, ERDC and independent developers discussing renovating the old Mississippi Hardware building into a technology center that will encourage entrepreneurship, it isn’t a far stretch to consider potential for this area to become a technology transfer center for the unmanned aerial vehicle industry.

There are several factors that can point to this area, under the right circumstances and marketing, to make it a suitable location for drone construction, testing and programming.

The top reason is ERDC. We have one of the top research and technology centers in the country, and obviously an agency that uses drones in its environmental lab to study topography and other issues. Second, we have a small airport that offers 80 acres of clear, unobstructed air space suitable for training pilots and testing unmanned aerial vehicles. And while there is aircraft traffic at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport, it’s not heavy like many major municipal airports such as Jackson, Atlanta or New Orleans.

For several years, the potential applications of drones in both the military and civilian environments has been constantly increasing, with some companies considering using them for delivery services and surveillance, and it is a technology market that needs to be considered for this area, given the desire in the community to form a closer alliance with ERDC and develop Vicksburg and Warren County as a technology center.

It’s worth looking into.