The Race For Drone Dollars

Connoisseurs of state economic development strategies and their amoral (if not immoral) character will love this story from TPM’s Alicia Chang:

[T]he Federal Aviation Administration last month put out a call to test fly drones at half a dozen to-be-determined sites before they can share the same space as commercial jetliners, small aircraft and helicopters.

Fifty teams from 37 states answered, vying to win bragging rights as a hub for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The military has long flown drones overseas to support troops, spy on enemies and fire missiles. There’s a recent clamor to fly them domestically to track the health of crops, fight wildfires in remote terrain, conduct search and rescue after a disaster and perform other chores considered too “dirty, dull or dangerous” for pilots. The expanding use for drones comes amid concerns of a “Big Brother” society.

The untapped civilian market — estimated to be worth billions — has created a face-off, with states perfecting their pitch — ample restricted airspace, industry connections, academic partners — not unlike what you might read in a tourism brochure.

Now I understand that drones are not inherently evil, and that drone technology can have benign applications. But they are a bit controversial these days, to say the least. Yet that’s not inhibiting eager state development officials from turning on the welcome sign and competing to become Drone Research Central.

I’ve often thought many states would happily turn potential “investment sites” into Hell Itself if Satan was looking for a new headquarters location and had a big sack of infernal cash to offer. The habit of assessing investments in terms of true costs and benefits, or the quality of jobs created, occasionally takes root here and there, but usually expires during hard times. What those jobs mean in the eternal scheme of things rarely if ever registers at all.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.