Since implementing the Crow Wing County Unmanned Aerial System Team on July 1, the group has been called out or has conducted more than 40 missions ranging from helping authorities locate missing people, assisting at structure and wildland fires, drownings, fleeing subjects, crash reconstructions and scene observations.

"Without the help of Sourcewell and Innovation Funding, we wouldn't have been able to get this project off the ground - no pun intended," Crow Wing County Emergency Management Director John Bowen said in a news release. "The Crow Wing County UAS Team has been received very well in our community, as well as in our neighboring counties. We've responded to a number of mutual aid calls from our surrounding counties and they have been very impressed with the technology made accessible to them."

The UAS Team was able to purchase four drones last year, including accessories like a 30x zoom camera affixed to one and a thermal-imaging camera on another, after being awarded $80,000 in Innovation Funding in 2017.

"Projects like the Crow Wing County UAS Team are prime examples of the power and scope of this funding,"Sourcewell Manager of City and County Services Anna Gruber said in the news release. "Through the Innovation Funding process, Sourcewell is able to give back to our communities in ways beyond our imagination. Through Innovation Funding, we've seen projects like a regional food cooperative, Wi-Fi on public transportation and a region-wide mental health initiative come to life. It's a wonderful way to collaborate with organizations throughout our region to do great things."

The 2019 Innovation Funding application process is open now through May 8. This year will mark the sixth consecutive year that city and county entities within Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties (Region 5) have the opportunity to partner with Sourcewell and make special projects and initiatives come to life.

Gruber said the Innovation Funding program was initially created in 2014 to help public agencies in Region 5 fund initiatives aimed at producing collaboration and improving the region. The program promotes outside-the-box teamwork on projects that might not otherwise come to fruition.

This is an annual funding opportunity, with $420,235 awarded in 2016, $450,000 awarded in 2017 and another $500,000 awarded in 2018. This year, Sourcewell is slated to award an additional $500,000.

This unique funding opportunity includes an Innovation Funding Review day when representatives from Region Five entities attend a day-long priority setting and application review to rank and select awarded projects. Gruber emphasized that Sourcewell does not select projects. Voting is done by Region 5 cities, counties and other government associations in attendance.

Review Day for 2019 will take place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at Sourcewell's campus in Staples.

For more information about Innovation Funding, including eligibility requirements and a link to the application, visit sourcewell.co/Funding2019 or email gov.solutions@sourcewell-mn.gov.