By Joseph Ditzler / The Bulletin
The nonprofit created to spur job growth and lure businesses to the development of unmanned aerial vehicle technology in Oregon has hired an executive director to lead the way.
Mark Morrisson starts work this week with the Oregon Unmanned Systems Business Enterprise, according to an announcement Friday from Economic Development for Central Oregon. Morrisson, who studied biochemistry and microbiology at the University of Queensland, Australia, most recently worked as senior director of corporate investment for Jabil Inc., a supply chain management and electronic manufacturing firm. His background also includes a five-year stint as CEO of Universal Biosensors, an Australian medical diagnostics company, and four years as general manager of Sun Country Raft Tours, in Bend.
He sees his challenges as executive director of the unmanned aerial systems enterprise as the same that face any new business startup.
“One of the skillsets that I bring to this position is my background in the investment community and senior executive role in small companies, taking them from the early formative stages to being able to deliver on their mission and business plan,” Morrisson said Friday.
Morrisson has lived in Bend since 1996.
The Oregon Unmanned Systems Business Enterprise is funded by a two-year, $822,000 state grant with a mission to create jobs and economic growth by capitalizing on the development of UAVs and their associated applications. Morrisson’s salary is paid from the grant.
The movement received a boost in December when the Federal Aviation Administration named the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and two other Oregon locations to one of six national testing sites for unmanned vehicles.
“My job is an economic development position statewide, not just Central Oregon,” Morrisson said. “The ambition is to see Oregon as a national leader. And at a federal level, the U.S. had identified (unmanned aerial systems) as an industrial sector in which the U.S. would like to be a global leader.”
Oregon, he said, can be a hotbed for unmanned aerial technology. The next step for the business enterprise will be putting forth a request for proposals from interested groups, whether academic, business or public sector, for programs funded by the state grant, Morrisson said.
The campaign around UAVs would first create a hub of businesses, academic programs and public agencies to foster development of the technology in Oregon, Morrisson agreed. Then, the resulting products could be put to work in Oregon. Precision agriculture is one obvious application, he said. Firefighting and search and rescue missions are others.
The effort to create an unmanned aerial systems sector in Central Oregon sprang from the ashes of the light aircraft industry that imploded here four years ago, said EDCO Executive Director Roger Lee.
“It really grew out of EDCO’s volunteer aerospace industry group in the aftermath of the Cessna closure,” he said. The group gathered to answer basic questions, like what next for the skilled people left behind.”
UAVs, he said, “are a natural fit.”