Fargo conference focuses on research and jobs


MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Academics, scientists and business developers from western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota came to Fargo Monday for the annual Red River Valley Research Corridor conference.

The agenda gives a good sense of what industries local leaders are banking on for future jobs.

One session was on unmanned aircraft systems. That industry is bustling with activity in Grand Forks and Thief River Falls. The University of North Dakota will train the people who fly unmanned aircraft. Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls plans to train the people who fix those planes. They’re betting unmanned aircraft will become a big part of air traffic, though that remains to be seen since the FAA still has questions about the safety of allowing unmanned aircraft in the national airspace.

A session on vaccines and biotech reflects the growing vaccine industry in Fargo Moorhead. Some small startup businesses are finding a niche in vaccine development and Fargo Moorhead business leaders hope to build on that. North Dakota State University in Fargo recently started a Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production.

Sustainable and clean energy also is a focus of the conference. The University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center has been pulling in millions of dollars for research on things like hydrogen, ethanol, and cleaner coal technology. That research has already spun off jobs and is likely to generate more.

Last but not least is nanotechnology. We’re talking about micro electronics. A Fargo company that makes flight recorders for helicopters has grown pretty quickly and is developing other technology aimed at military and civilian aviation.

North Dakota State University is focusing a lot of research on materials to coat the surfaces of things like ships and airplanes. That research also involves nanotech.

They may not replace agriculture as the cash cow anytime soon, but it’s a good bet those four industry sectors will generate more economic activity in the Red River Valley.

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