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Drone Testing Site May Mean Thousands of Jobs For West Tennessee

By Ben Rainwater
By brainwater@wbbjtv.com

HARDIN COUNTY, Tenn.-- A company specializing in unmanned aircraft, better known as drones, hopes to make West Tennessee home to a new testing facility leaving local lawmakers hopeful.

State Representative of the 71st District, Vance Dennis, is one of those hopeful lawmakers.

"You're talking about thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue and income for Tennessee citizens potentially, if this test site comes into fruition," Dennis said.

Right now, there's only one unmanned aircraft testing site in the country. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will soon select six more.

If ISR Group makes the list to expand in Hardin County, it could mean nearly 5,000 jobs, more than $1 billion in earnings, and millions in tax revenue for West Tennessee.

"I think the odds are very good," Dennis said. "We're well placed, we have more training hours, more operational hours from the presentation that we saw for these types of vehicles for these type of unmanned aerial systems then anybody else in the country."

Beth Pippin, the Executive Director of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, is hoping that the FAA chooses Hardin County as the next testing site.

"This facility has meant so much to our area already, and it just brings that quality of life to your area," Pippin said. 'It would just keep growing and growing."

ISR says residents shouldn't be skeptical of unmanned systems flying in the area. Drone technology is quickly expanding beyond military operations and is becoming useful in disaster recovery, search and rescue and even farming.

"They work so much with the farmers now, the agriculture part they're bringing to it," Pippin said. "The safety; when there's disasters they can go in and scan over that."

ISR Group says more than 20 companies are still in the running, but that number will be cut down to 12 in the coming weeks.

The final six are scheduled to be chosen by December 31.