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The Air Force, Grand Forks County and Grand Sky Development Co. on Thursday broke ground on the nation’s first business and aviation park for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) at Grand Forks AFB, a $300 million project being developed through an enhanced use lease.

Last week’s ceremony was three years in the making, and the lead developer highlighted the forward thinking required to get the project off the ground.

“It’s about the people that had the vision to embrace unmanned technology and invest in it,” said Tom Swoyer Jr., president of Grand Sky Development Co. “Most importantly, it’s about the people who answered the question, ‘Why not?’ that has made all the difference,” Swoyer told the Grand Forks Herald.

The Grand Sky project — the product of a 50-year lease between the Air Force and the county — is expected to take advantage of the burgeoning unmanned systems industry, catering to organizations interested in taking advantage of the open airspace in the northern Plains for research, testing, training and operations. The county awarded a sublease to Grand Sky Development Co. to develop the project. The state of North Dakota has invested $13 million in the initiative.

The 217-acre park promises 1.2 million square feet of hangar, office, shop, laboratory and data center space, with buildout scheduled to take seven to eight years.

Workers already have begun installing more than $8 million of infrastructure on the site, a stage that should be finished before the end of the year. By this time next year, Swoyer said, the first buildings should be completed.

Next month, Northrop Grumman will become the project’s first tenant to break ground on its site at Grand Sky. The business park also is negotiating with General Atomics to lease space, according to the story.