Covington building Drone Zone

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COVINGTON, Va. (WDBJ7) In Covington, they're looking to innovation in drones to help bring a bump to the economy in town.

Bruce Young/WDBJ7

With a state grant, and a head start through this local drone racing event, they hope to make the town a center for drone development.

It started fast, with drone racing.

“Everybody just loves to come here and race," says Covington Mayor Tom Sibold. "Because the view, the mountains, just the scenery, they just really enjoy being here and flying.”

But there’s more to drones than speed and obstacle courses.

“Last year," Sibold says, "After the first race we had was over with, we got to talking about setting up some sort of -- we’re calling it a ‘Drone Zone’ now.”

An old school, standing empty just five minutes from the farm where the race course is.

“We have 22 classrooms. We have a business that’s moving in the end of June," says Marla Akridge, Executive Director of the Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation. "And these classrooms will be used for research and development, but also for storage of their equipment when they might be in Washington, DC, or in New York.”

“It’s an incubator," Sibold explains. "Hopefully we can get some businesses started there and as they grow they’ll move out into the city and take up an empty building and start a new business.”

And with a $100,000 grant from the state for renovations and marketing, they’ve already got some more companies looking at the Drone Zone.

“There’s a huge niche in our market here with our institutions," Akridge says. "But there’s also a huge niche with growing, emerging companies.”

Mayor Sibold says: “Yeah, it’s a new technology. It’s emerging, there’s a lot going on in that field, and we want to be in the front of it.”