Unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones. Who would have imagined five years ago that they'd be viewed as the wave of our region's economic future.

That may be an overstatement, but no doubt UAVs are making local economic development pros giddy.

In late December, it was announced that Warm Springs Reservation is part of the Pan-Pacific testing ground approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. It marked the successful end to a couple years of work for work by regional economic development groups and individuals, and congratulations are in order.

No doubt the young, growing industry will be a nice economic infusion to Central Oregon, bringing high tech, well-paying jobs for the next few years, and maybe for decades to come.

But will those jobs make it close to the testing zones, say to the Madras and Warm Springs communities?

Certainly two key local economic development coordinators — Janet Brown, the Jefferson County Director for Economic Development for Central Oregon, and Jeff Anspach, CEO of Warm Springs Ventures — recognize that getting the test site designation is wonderful, but getting businesses to establish here is the real goal.

"We would love to have them locate in Warm Springs or Madras, Culver and Metolius, or Crooked River Ranch," said Brown.

"Ultimately, what we're hoping for is that industry will see the value of the Warm Springs range and want to snuggle up close to it and have a permanent presence," said Anspach.

Essentially, the hope is that the economic infusion of the UAVs will be more than workers stopping in Madras to gas up their rig and grab a fountain pop before heading back to the office in Deschutes County.

The UAV work and industry, and the vast and diverse ancillary businesses that could spring from it, are somewhat mind-boggling. It will be very interesting, to say the least, to watch it develop.

EDCO Executive Director Roger Lee reportedly said that, since the Dec. 30 announcement of the UAV test site designation, 12 to 15 companies have inquired about setting up shops in Central Oregon. And that's just within a couple weeks of the announcement.

There's little doubt the unmanned aircraft does have a huge future. Many relate it to standard aircraft, how it was the domain of the military when first invented in the early 1900s, until expanding to private and commercial uses. Whereas UAVs are primarily used for military purposes now, as we move further into the future, they will be used more and more for science, businesses, agriculture, fire suppression, law enforcement and other uses — if Amazon's goals are reached, even for package delivery.

Some officials throw the "game-changer" phrase out regarding how UAVs may impact our economy. Hope so.

But again, how much that game changes in the Madras area, and Jefferson County, depends on getting some of these potential businesses to choose to locate here — and then, maybe more importantly, for their employees to live here.

That has long been one of the Madras area's biggest drawbacks. Too many of our highest paid job-holders choose not to live here, whether those jobs are in government, medical, education and other fields. The Madras area isn't alone; everywhere, small towns near regional urban areas fight that same battle.

Anspach said it very well in a recent Bulletin story: "Being a beautiful place to live isn't enough to attract industry. We have to have a reason for them to be here."

Only when we have enough "reasons" in place to actually secure business will the UAV designation be the true game-changer here that is can be.

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