Va. Beach’s DroneUp to add 655 jobs
New positions are part of $27M expansion
Virginia Beach-based DroneUp LLC is adding 655 jobs as part of a $27 million expansion that will include establishing a drone testing, training and research and development center at Richard Bland College, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced during a news conference Wednesday at the Executive Mansion in Richmond.
DroneUp, which specializes in commercial drone delivery and flight services and software, will invest $20 million to establish the college center and $7 million to expand its Virginia Beach headquarters at 160 Newtown Road. The headquarters, currently about 15,000 square feet, will expand to about 80,000 square feet.
Youngkin and DroneUp founder and CEO Tom Walker began discussing the project in February.
“DroneUp’s decision to expand its footprint across Virginia shines a spotlight on the advantages, the strengths, that are providing this great growth platform for not just companies,” Youngkin said, “but for Virginians: our best in class location right here, right here on the East Coast with a port that serves the world, a world-class infrastructure beyond our port, with investment in roads and broadband in order to connect Virginia, a highly skilled workforce that is the envy of the nation in a top-tiered education system. And when we bring together this winning formula, companies win and Virginia wins.”
The company will add 510 jobs at its headquarters and it will create 145 jobs for drone operator trainers at the training center. DroneUp currently has about 300 employees but expects to have about 750 by the end of this year, DroneUp founder and CEO Tom Walker said.
“When you’re growing that fast, you’re hiring in everything. You’re hiring in marketing, you’re hiring in finance, you’re hiring in technology,” Walker said, referencing the fact that DroneUp’s new headquarters jobs will be divided across a variety of fields.
DroneUp will open three drone hubs at Walmart Inc. locations in Virginia in the next two to three months that the company will use in the new operator training program, Walker said. Those hubs will be at two locations in Chesterfield County and one in Chesapeake, said Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer. However, announcing locations is a bit premature, said T. Preston Lloyd Jr., a Williams Mullen partner representing DroneUp: “At this time, DroneUp is still negotiating and exploring where those final hub locations will be.”
A provider of drone services for Walmart, DroneUp announced a partnership with the retailer in 2021 to provide drone delivery services at 34 sites around the nation with the capacity to reach 4 million homes. Walmart has a minority stake in DroneUp and a seat on its board.
The concrete for the training facility was poured Tuesday, Walker said, and the building facilities will be delivered Thursday.
“Right now, we’re having to train these people … at various ball fields … in Virginia Beach and in Arkansas and other places,” he said. “But my anticipation is we will [begin] training [at Richard Bland College] in two weeks.”
The training program will run six weeks total. Students will learn online for two weeks, and then DroneUp will fly them to Richard Bland for two weeks of training before transitioning to training with delivery operators at one of the area Walmart stores using its services.
Richard Bland College anticipates students earning nine college credits through the program, which equates to a Federal Aviation Administration micro-credential in unmanned aerial systems, said college President Debbie Sydow.
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Virginia Beach, Dinwiddie County, Richard Bland College and Virginia’s Gateway Region to secure the projects. Virginia competed against Arizona, New York, North Carolina and Texas for the projects. Youngkin approved a $928,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund and $4 million from the Virginia Economic Development Incentive Grant. The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission approved a grant for $111,000 from the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund for the project and funding and services to support DroneUp’s employee training activities provided through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
Founded in 2016, DroneUp works with more than 20,000 drone pilots.