Visionary businessman Jeff Bezos was on “60 Minutes” last week, and he caused a stir when he said that within four years his company, Amazon, might be delivering products via drones.
That’s right. Drones. These are benign drones, working drones, delivery drones.
It’s a future Bezos, whose last big idea turned into a huge Internet company, apparently already sees clearly. We think Stanislaus County has a role in Bezos’ future. In fact, we’ve got the perfect homebase for Amazon Prime Air. Call us the Drone-a-Zone. Drone-topia. Drone Central.
Why? Serendipity. Amazon is already on the ground in Stanislaus County, west of Patterson near Interstate 5. And so are the drones.
NASA conducts occasional experiments at the former Crows Landing Naval Air Station, often using unmanned flying vehicles, i.e., drones.
That’s the same Crows Landing the county envisions as the business park of the future. Developer Gerry Kamilos spent nearly six years trying to turn the 1,500-acre World War II-era facility into a job-generating business park. He staked his plan on trains.
But Patterson residents didn’t relish the thought of 50 or 60 freighters a day passing through their community. With a bad economy, he was finally forced to give up his plan in 2012. But the county hasn’t been motionless. “We’ve been meeting once a month, talking over West Side issues and Crows Landing for over a year,” said Keith Boggs, the assistant executive officer of Stanislaus County and the man most involved in the Crows Landing project.
Patterson city leaders are on the ground floor for an industrial park that will be about four miles south of the city.
City Manager Rod Butler said the entities are “working really closely together.” As we noted last month, the county has contracted with AECOM to produce an environmental impact report so when a master developer is hired (perhaps by 2016) an acceptable plan can be implemented quickly. This time, the county is making the site’s airfield more central in its planning.
“One of the things we’re required to do is to maintain some aviation component,” Boggs said. “We’ve got a 5,300-foot runway. ... We’re really excited about what this can be.
“This is where Amazon can swoop in. Some drones need runways. The company built its “fulfillment center” — one of the most modern logistics facilities in the world — from the ground up in Patterson. It’s filled with robotics and computers and allows Amazon to ship tens of thousands of objects to customers every day. So, if Amazon has a major facility a short drive from a drone-ready facility, why wouldn’t it take advantage of the obvious synergy?
Bezos knows his business best, and Crows Landing might not play any role.
But Patterson on Wednesday night annexed more land to build even more warehouses adjacent to I-5. One thing the city failed to do, however, was account for how it will build roads to accommodate a whole lot more truck traffic. Instead of the 95 cents per square foot the county charges, the city will charge only 7 cents. That could hamstring any efforts to beef up interchanges or surface streets to accommodate more trucks and the cars of thousands of workers.
Perhaps the city is already counting on drones to keep things moving. Probable traffic congestion aside, Patterson is perfectly positioned to play a significant role in a future that will almost certainly see drones become a part of our daily lives. That’s not to minimize the difficulties — the FAA has yet to develop rules, drones aren’t self-directed, anything with eight spinning blades can be dangerous, etc.
A recent editorial said that expanded use of commercial drones is inevitable.
“So is the development of Crows Landing.
“The Crows Landing project is western United States significant,” said Boggs. “If you can hit five single states and another country in a single day-trip, you’ve got something.”
The airstrip makes it even more attractive — especially to someone putting wings on his dreams.