Home Back Issues April 2014 Aiming skyward

Aiming skyward

| Print |  Email
Articles - April 2014
Thursday, March 27, 2014
0414 regional wheat 
 Wheat field in Eastern Oregon
//by Bill Peal | Eagle Eye Photography

BY JONATHAN FROCHTZWAJG

Art Hill is quick to correct a reporter who uses the term “drones”: “Unmanned aerial vehicles,” the vice president for economic development at Pendleton’s Blue Mountain Community College suggests. “Drone,” he explains, has become something of a dirty word, evoking controversial CIA use of the pilotless aircraft. “UAVs have gone light years beyond that into civilian applications,” he says.

Hill should know: Blue Mountain is designing programs to train students in those applications, hot on the heels of a Federal Aviation Administration decision that positions Pendleton in the vanguard of the commercial UAV industry. 

You wouldn’t expect to find this Eastern Oregon town of 16,838 on the tech industry’s cutting edge. Best known for its eponymous woolen mills and tourist-magnet rodeo, Pendleton has long been economically driven by traditional industries such as agriculture — especially wheat — and food processing. But the city’s economic development coordinator and airport manager, Steve Chrisman, says a recent changing of the guard among local elected officials and community leaders has shifted the “collective psyche” in a more forward-looking direction. When the opportunity arose in 2012 to become an FAA-designated range for commercial UAV testing, the city’s reinvigorated leadership seized it. So the story of Pendleton became a tale of two cities: one a farm town with deep roots, the other a tech outpost with high-flying aspirations.

Chrisman says Pendleton’s new test range, which will be headquartered at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport and is required to be operational by July 1, will boost the local economy by attracting to the city businesses exploring commercial drone use. Prior to the test-range designations, such companies could only try out their technologies in remote, military airspace.

That’s where Hill comes in. Blue Mountain’s forthcoming offerings, which could include anything from pilot training to training in UAV-support skills like computer-assisted design, are intended to prepare students for drone-related jobs in such key sectors as emergency response, natural resources, environmental science, and agriculture and forestry. 

Of special interest in this town amid wheat fields are drone applications in “precision agriculture”: ag that utilizes technologies such as GPS and infrared imaging to improve efficiency. Some U.S. farmers with large acreages are already deploying UAVs to detect dry soil, pests and disease remotely, and thus use water, pesticide and energy in a more strategic fashion. Farmers are by and large a conservative lot, though, so most are taking a wait-and-see stance on the technology. 

Tyson Raymond, a fifth-generation, 33-year-old farmer who grows mostly wheat on his family’s vast plot outside Pendleton, is a case in point. While he employs precision-ag technologies on his tractors and pesticide sprayers, he isn’t yet sold on drones’ utility. 

“Until somebody can explain directly how it either (a) helps me grow better crops or (b) saves me money, it won’t be utilized,” Raymond says. “But that’s the same with any new technology. I think most people see potential there.”

Although UAVs have the capability to transform agriculture, Raymond’s not-atypical attitude shows that in Pendleton the two industries remain worlds apart. Drones are an economic-development dream — but wheat is king. The region’s grain cooperative, Pendleton Grain Growers, deals 10 to 13 million bushels of it a year, and the returns reverberate throughout the local economy, from suppliers to shippers to local retailers. 

Of course, farming is always risky business, and of late, Raymond says, dry weather (along with a global wheat glut) has yielded harrowingly narrow margins. As area growers scan the long Eastern Oregon horizon hopefully for rain clouds, city boosters shrewdly eye the same airspace for drone dollars. Pendleton, town and country, is looking to the skies for its future.

 


Umatilla County aloneproduced more than one quarter of Oregon’s $139 million annual wheat crop in 2012. SOURCE: OREGON WHEAT GROWER’S LEAGUE

“Everyone in these rural communities always wants high-tech, because those are the good-paying jobs, but oftentimes small communities don’t have that workforce.” STEVE CHRISMAN, City of Pendleton

“If you look at any of the literature about precision agriculture, it’s all about unmanned aerial vehicles: They’re detecting pests, they’re detecting disease, they’re detecting drought. It’s exciting as heck to see it being applied to an industry like food.” ART HILL, Blue Mountain Community College

 

 

More Articles

Updated: Disrupting innovation

News
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
070814 thumb disputive-innovationBY LINDA BAKER  | OB EDITOR

The New Yorker recently published a sharply worded critique of “disruptive innovation,” one of the most widely cited theories in the business world today. The article raises questions about the descriptive value of disruption and innovation  — whether the terms are mere buzzwords or actually explain today's extraordinarily complex and fast changing business environment. 

Update: We caught up with Portland's Thomas Thurston, who shared his data driven take on the disruption controversy.


Read more...

Risks & rewards of owning triple net investments

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, July 24, 2014
NNNinvestmentBY CLIFF HOCKLEY | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

With the increasing retirements of Baby Boomers, a massive real estate shift has created a significant increase in demand for NNN properties. The result? Increased demand has triggered higher prices and lower yields.


Read more...

Green Your Workplace seminar held at Nines Hotel

News
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

GreenYourWorkplacelogoOBMOregon Business magazine's  "Green Your Workplace" seminar featured a panel of sustainability experts from small, medium and large organizations. The seminar drew 70 people and took place in the Nines Hotel this morning.


Read more...

The business of running a food cart

News
Thursday, June 05, 2014
OBM1BY HANNAH WALLACE | OB BLOGGER

What does it take to launch and run one of these mobile food businesses?  


Read more...

2014 Best Green Companies to Work For announced

News
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

100BestGreenMore than 350 people turned out today for Oregon Business magazine’s sixth annual celebration of the 100 Best Green Companies to Work For in Oregon.


Read more...

Blips and trends in the housing market

News
Thursday, June 26, 2014
062614 thumb realestateBY ERIC FRUTS | OB BLOGGER

Last year, the housing market in Oregon—and the U.S. as a whole—was blasting off. The Case-Shiller index of home prices ended the year 13% higher than at the beginning of the year. But, was last year a blip, or a trend?


Read more...

Timber town

June 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014
BY LEE VAN DER VOO

A forest collaboration saves the Rough & Ready Lumber Company.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS