Consortium still optimistic about designation

ALPENA – The Federal Aviation Administration still intends to issue six center of excellence designations for unmanned aircraft development, research and training by the end of December.

As the announcement nears the board of trustees for the Michigan Advanced Aerial Systems Consortium is taking steps to line up funding. It would be used to hire a CEO, as well as market the services that will be available for the government and private companies investing in unmanned aircraft technology.

There was a consortium meeting on Thursday and according to County Commissioner Cam Habermehl the board is upbeat about its chances to secure one of the centers that could lead to a boom of business in several communities in Michigan. He said everyone has done the best they can to make the consortium’s proposal to the FAA as strong as possible and now it is time to make plans for after the decision is made.

“I’m confident we have as good as chance as anyone else,” Habermehl said. “There is really nothing more that we can do but wait. We are doing some things like planning next year’s UAS conference and a few other things, but right now I would say the mood of the board is upbeat and confident.”

Jim Klarich, director of economic development for the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce, sits in on the meetings and has been involved with the project. He said one of the more important developments is the consortium is going to submit a grant request from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to use to help cover the potential expenses it faces.

“It would be a three phase grant that would help establish and market the MIAASC,” Klarich said. “It would help to hire a CEO and to host the conference next year. It has not been approved yet and I can’t release how much the grant may be for, but it is ongoing.”

Like Habermehl, Klarich said he likes the consortium’s chances of being one of the six selected and he likes what it could mean to Alpena and the other partners involved.

The MIAASC bid has a lot of positives in it that others may not be able to match. Michigan has the largest amount of unrestricted air space east of the Mississippi River, it has four seasons, large bodies of water for maritime maneuver, international borders and a small population. The presence of the Alpena Combat Readiness Training, Camp Grayling and the technology they possess, also makes Michigan attractive for drone business.

Klarich said the consortium is preparing for the two scenarios that are in front of it.

“We either get it, or we don’t,” Klarich said. “We are taking steps to move forward no matter what happens and we need to have a plan for development no matter what and that is something that the board is working on.”

Habermehl said even if the center of excellence is not awarded to Michigan, Alpena and the rest of the consortium will push forward in attracting companies from the private sector that may want to conduct unmanned aircraft business in the state.

“Even if we don’t get it we will continue ahead with the plan we had,” Habermehl said. “We can still develop and we still have the land and the airport. It would be a nice added bonus though for sure.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at