Drone econ 4

Texas is also riding high on AUVSI's state-by-state UAS industry rankings at No. 3. That's largely because, like California, Washington, and Florida, its existing aerospace and defense industries are strong -- Lockheed Martin has a large presence there, as does Bell Helicopter, General Dynamics (GD, Fortune 500), Boeing, Raytheon (RTN, Fortune 500), Rockwell Collins (COL, Fortune 500), and many others. The state of its engineering education and workforce is likewise strong, with universities like Texas A&M taking an active interest in UAS development and traditional aerospace anchors like Johnson Space Center drawing the right kind of educated workforce to the state.

However, civilian skies are not poised to be filled with militarized MQ-9 Reaper drones -- rather, small UAS (under 55 pounds) will drive the coming drone industry boom, and Texas has its fair share of small UAS makers emerging as well. Despite its name, Conroe's Vanguard Defense Industries also makes small unmanned helicopters suited for non-military applications like facility security, surveying and cartography, infrastructure inspection, and other domestic/civilian uses. Likewise, Austin's DJI Inc. produces small UAS suitable for similar aerial photography roles as well as onboard autopilot modules and other flight components for small UAS.

But that's still not the most notable thing about Texas. On top of its generally business-friendly climate, deep aerospace roots, and a varied geography and climate (for flight test purposes), Texas as a state is fairly friendly to drones. Sure, there are a couple of voices in Austin calling for UAS restrictions arising from privacy concerns, but Texas has been quite progressive where public safety UAS are concerned. A Houston-area Sheriff's department has operated an unmanned helicopter for more than a year (though it recently ran into a bit of trouble with the FAA), and Arlington police have secured certification from the FAA to operate two unmanned helicopters during police operations there. That may not sound like much, but in terms of drone adoption it's pioneering. While some states -- Idaho and Virginia come to mind -- are already passing laws to restrict drone usage before they are even being used, from a policy standpoint Texas is thus far keeping a very open mind. Ultimately that's going to be very important to companies looking for states in which to set up shop.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated May 13 2013 03:27 PM ET
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