City of Battle Creek flies into drone market


Battle Creek has its sights set on the drone business with a recent Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant.

The Michigan Defense Center (MDC) recently awarded the city’s economic development group, Battle Creek Unlimited, $150,000 in grants to expand its continued military infrastructure.

The MDC is the defense wing of the MEDC and focuses specifically on economic development via expanding military defense assets.

The MDC announced a call for grant proposals earlier this summer. Battle Creek Unlimited President and CEO Joe Sobieralski said his organization applied partly to better understand the military assets and opportunities Battle Creek already has.

Sobieralski said $100,000 would be used to position Battle Creek to take advantage of the growing drone industry, which includes positioning and marketing the city to aerospace manufacturers in other markets.

One existing asset he pointed to that could help make Battle Creek attractive to drone manufacturers is W.K. Kellogg Airport at 15551 South Airport Road east of Battle Creek.

“We’ll be working to engage consultants who have expertise and will come in to analyze our assets,” Sobieralski said. “We believe we have access with the airport, the runway, but they’ll come in and identify the gaps.”

Kellogg Airport sits on 1,600 acres of land and has a wide range of tenants, including the Western Michigan University College of Aviation, the Air National Guard’s 110th Attack Wing, Duncan Aviation, WACO Classic Aircraft and Centennial Aircraft Services, according to the airport’s website.

Battle Creek already is home to several military operations, including Fort Custer Training Center, the Air National Guard’s 110th Attack Wing, an Army National Guard center and Naval Reserve Center.

“We have all branches of the military in Battle Creek except for the Coast Guard,” Sobieralski said. “That’s hundreds of millions of dollars of impact on our regional and local economy.”

The 110th Attack Wing already operates unmanned drones overseas from its home base in Battle Creek, and Sobieralski said the wing gives Battle Creek a “natural synergy” to help expand the city’s drone capabilities.

In addition to expanding drone capabilities, Sobieralski said Battle Creek Unlimited hopes to position the city as the potential site for a future east coast missile defense site. The remaining $50,000 of grant funding will be allocated toward that goal.

Sobieralski said the plans are tenuous at this time. While the city is unsure whether to hire a consultant, Sobieralski did anticipate a visit to the missile defense site at Fort Greely, Alaska, which would help determine Battle Creek’s missile capabilities.

“We were just awarded the grants and, now, trying to reach out to folks who can assist us,” he said.

Sobieralski anticipated starting drone research within the next couple of months. No contracted parties were named at press time.

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