Grand Forks Leaders Hopeful for New Missions at Base

(Photo: U.S. Air Force.)
(Photo: U.S. Air Force.)

Grand Forks leaders traveled to Winnipeg late last week in an effort to ensure the community's air base is on a brigadier general's radar.

A contingent of Grand Forks officials made a trip Friday to visit U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Chad Manske near North American Aerospace Defense Command operations in Winnipeg. The visit is part of ongoing efforts to advertise Grand Forks Air Force Base and advocate for more missions and investment at the facility.

NORAD is a joint effort between the United States and Canada that is charged with handling the detection of potential aerospace threats and warning North America of any danger.

Klaus Thiessen, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Economic Development Corporation, called the visit a success, though he said that at this point the visit was more about building relationships than breaking ground on new projects.

"We had a 60-minute meeting, and the purpose of it was literally to inform the brigadier general what we're doing in Grand Forks and invite him to come down sometime to take a look," Thiessen said.

The developing Grand Sky unmanned aircraft system park on the base, visiting officials said, was an especially important point raised during the discussion.

Tom Ford, coordinator of Grand Forks' Base Realignment Impact Committee, said the base had a $254 million economic impact on the area in 2014, which includes Air Force personnel settling and spending their money in the area.

"It's not just the base itself, but what the base has to offer to leverage that into different things," Thiessen added. "The UAS park is an example of that."

Terry Sando, UAS sector senior manager with EDC, said the trip to Winnipeg might help boost the number of missions at the base. Getting NORAD command interested in Grand Forks, he said, could bring a Canadian presence to the area as the country hones its UAS capabilities, or could even station more U.S. and Canadian fighters at the base to train for bomber interception.

"It a program that's sat on the shelf for a while, and it would be nice to reinvigorate it again," Sando said.

Thiessen and a host of other local leaders, including Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown and Grand Forks County Commissioner David Engen, are headed to Washington, D.C., on Dec. 8 and 9 to meet with Department of Defense officials on similar topics. Both visits fall as the Air Force evaluates investments throughout its ranks, Ford said.

"Budgets are shrinking," he said. "We're running into sequestration and smaller budgets. The Air Force is being asked to do more with less. Communities are being looked at to almost define the role of their community installations."

Thiessen stressed that the discussions about future development are still in their early stages.

"We're just planting the seed," he said.

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