Cape May hopes drones can lift its economy

Cape May hopes to boost economy using drones

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[Editor’s Note: Cape May hopes to attract manufacturers to supplement popular industries such as tourism and fishing.]


Cape May County will host regular conferences on drone technology to encourage manufacturers and innovators to use its airport, already designated a federal test site.

One such gathering last month featured a group of more than 140 people from tech companies and emergency management.

Donald Sebastian, from the New Jersey Innovation Institute, will be the keynote speaker at the next conference, May 23 on drones as a commercial industry.

Cape May County is looking to attract manufacturers to supplement its dominant industries, tourism and, to a much lesser extent, fishing.

The county had hoped to secure offshore-wind manufacturing before economics and politics waylaid that industry.

Cape May County’s geographic isolation far from major cities and surrounded by water on three sides presented obstacles to attracting new business.

But for drone-testing, the county’s geography works in its favor, said Carole Mattessich, Cape May County’s director of economic development.

“Cape May County has certain features that have operated against it in the past four or five decades when it came to attracting new business,” she said. “With drones, those same features are pluses.

“We’re almost 50 percent wetlands in this county. We’re surrounded by water. But folks who are into drone research and development are in to those features,” she said.

Mattessich said there is a desire across the country to be the next Silicon Valley. But replicating the success of California’s tech industry might be difficult. Silicon Valley was fueled by its proximity to stellar universities and desirable cities with a nice quality of living surrounded by suburbia that was poised for development.

“We didn’t have some of the infrastructure for heavy manufacturing. We don’t have heavy rail — no major highways. But to innovators, particularly those working in disruptive technology, they love an area like this. They don’t need to be trucking goods back and forth,” she said.

And the Cape May Airport is both big enough and lightly traveled enough to make drones a welcome addition within a reasonable proximity to Washington, Philadelphia and New York, she said.

The conference in April discussed ways that drones might help first responders and emergency managers during a fire, flood or other natural disaster.

“It’s in its infancy now. By meeting with emergency-management directors and manufacturers, we can get questions answered. Can you do this?” Cape May County Emergency Management Director Martin Pagliughi said.

For example, one possibility is to track beach loss after a storm using drones mounted with accurate light-detection and ranging systems. This could help towns determine how much sand they lost in hours instead of days.

And drones mounted with thermal imaging could search a grid for a lost hiker or swimmer.

“The ultimate goal is to encourage manufacturers to come to Cape May County,” said Pagliughi, who is also mayor of Avalon. “There’s a big opportunity for employment and jobs.”

A conference in May will talk about drone innovation. And in June the county will host a two-day workshop with a demonstration showing how drones might respond to a marine emergency.

“All of that goes into planting the seeds for what we hope will be a substantial industry in the county,” Mattessich said.

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