By Matt Sanctis

Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD — Clark State Community College officials unveiled a new fall degree program Friday that could train employees for precision agriculture, part of a growing Unmanned Aerial Systems industry that could generate as much as $339 million for Ohio’s economy in its first three years.

Clark State’s precision agriculture program will kick off this fall, blending traditional agriculture classes with new courses such as Data Analytics and Applied GIS for Agriculture. It will be one of just a few community colleges in the nation to offer a degreed program. As UAS are integrated into U.S. airspace, their economic impact could be as much as $13.6 billion in the first three years, said Aurea Rivera, a consultant who helped develop the Clark State program.

Precision agriculture is expected to be one of the most significant uses for UAS.

The Miami Valley was passed over in a recent Federal Aviation Administration decision on where to test UAS in air space, but there are still plenty of opportunities to conduct research and grow businesses using the technology, Rivera said.

“In reality, it doesn’t preclude the state colleges and universities from taking part in the research that’s a part of this discipline,” she said.

Representatives from several area businesses made a number of suggestions, including scheduling internships so students can get more work experience during planting and harvesting seasons.

Staff from Clark State also sought information on what kinds of skills business owners are looking for in potential employees. The program at Clark State would rely less on flying the unmanned vehicles and more on interpreting and reviewing data being collected.

“We want to know what skills do businesses want students to have so they’re not requiring substantial retraining,” said Larry Everett, professor of agri-business at Clark State.

As many as one in seven jobs in Ohio is tied to agriculture, so the potential benefits to students and employers is significant, Rivera said.

“These numbers, I believe, are the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

One of the challenges the program will face is it will have to remain flexible because of the rapid pace at which the technology changes, Everett said. The goal will be to make sure students have a solid background in agriculture and UAS, and allow students to get experience on the job through internships or other training opportunities.