Like so many of you, we begin this year looking forward to the new opportunities on the horizon. The chance for a fresh start, and a hope to move toward greater stability and reignite the momentum that fueled our pre-pandemic progress. Announcements made [recently] highlight how our region’s groundwork to lead in the unmanned-systems industry, initiated years ago, will move us closer to those goals.
First, we join NUAIR in welcoming Ken Stewart as its president and CEO. Ken most recently served as CEO of AiRXOS, part of GE Aviation, and is a well-known innovator and leader in the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry. His business-leadership background will further position NUAIR to advance efforts to safely integrate UAS (drones) into the national airspace system and keep the region at the forefront of the industry.
We also [recently] joined Empire State Development to open applications for round five of the GENIUS NY program. The year-long, in-residence accelerator program is operated from CenterState CEO’s Tech Garden and will invest $3 million in five finalist companies, including a grand prize of $1 million. The previous four rounds of the program have been instrumental in supporting the region’s UAS and UTM ecosystems. It is exciting to see renewed investment in this sector, which is a proven jobs creator. Companies like Fotokite and Eagle Hawk, among others, remain in the region and have even experienced growth during the COVID-19 crisis.
These announcements come at a time when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finalized new rules for small, unmanned drones that could pave the way for expanded commercial use, including the delivery of packages. Such expanded operations further place this region at the forefront of this sector as we are home to one of seven FAA-designated UAS test sites in the country, and New York’s 50-mile UAS traffic-management corridor. These two major resources provide testing capabilities as well as the ability to safely fly advanced drone operations like medical-supply deliveries by drones.
Over the past decade, we have seeded the programs and projects within our region to rise to this moment of progress for the UAS sector. With strong leadership of NUAIR, a next chapter for GENIUS NY — coupled with Syracuse Surge strategies to drive inclusive workforce and entrepreneurship opportunities in the tech sector — we stand ready to drive further innovation in this industry. [This will allow us to] capture new emerging opportunities that will accelerate our recovery and shape our way of life for the better.
Robert M. Simpson is president and CEO of CenterState CEO, the primary economic-development organization for Central New York. This viewpoint is drawn and edited from the “CEO Focus” email newsletter that the organization sent to members on Jan. 8.