Drone Tech Program Could Take Off in Flagler County, Fla.

Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin asked council members for a letter of support for a new unmanned aerial vehicle technician program -- to help bring drones in.

by Aaron London / August 24, 2017

(TNS) -- While communities across the country search for ways to grow their economies, Flagler County's economic future could be up in the air — if a new program to certify unmanned aerial vehicles is approved.

Prospects on the ground also look promising, with a nearly 40 percent increase in single-family housing starts through the first half of the year compared with 2016.

During a meeting Wednesday of the Flagler County Economic Opportunity Advisory Council, Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin asked council members for a letter of support for a new unmanned aerial vehicle technician program.

Conklin, who also serves as executive director of the Gaetz Aerospace Institute at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, said the proliferation of UAVs, also known as drones, is expected to skyrocket, and along with it a demand for certified drone technicians.

"We actually identified the need because of our own need," she said.

As part of its Flagship program, Flagler Palm Coast High School administrators created an aeronautics program and a UAV training area known as the "Drone Zone" in 2016.

"This program development came out of that," Conklin said. "Our hope is this will be able to feed a future market need."

Conklin asked advisory council members to write a letter of support for the creation of a certification program for UAV technicians that would be offered at the high school level.

Helga van Eckert, executive director of the Flagler County Department of Economic Opportunity, said the program could be a boon for the community and would dovetail with the county's overall economic development efforts.

"As one of our targeted industries, this is a great program for us to support," she said. "Having this kind of program set-up is just perfect."

Advisory council members also heard briefings on residential construction activity and commercial real estate development.

Jason DeLorenzo, government affairs director at the Flagler Home Builders Association, said housing starts in Flagler County are up 39.5 percent through the first half of 2017 compared with 2016.

"It's looking pretty good," he said.

DeLorenzo said the county is on track to surpass 1,000 total permit issues this year, a significant jump from the 770 permits pulled in 2016.

DeLorenzo said the building industry is still plagued by a lack of skilled workers, longer construction times and higher housing costs, among other things.

On the commercial real estate front, Realtor Margaret Sheehan-Jones said that development is on the upswing.

She said while "we don't have tremendous product" in the multi-family market in Flagler County, activity there is also picking up.

"For the first time in many, many years we're getting phone calls" from multi-family developers, she said.

Looking broadly at developments in the industrial, commercial and retail sectors, Sheehan-Jones was optimistic.

"It's still a positive overall growth picture," she said.

©2017 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.