Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2007

County, Leavenworth sweeten pot for bio lab

February 14, 2007

The city of Leavenworth and Leavenworth County have committed spending up to a combined $5 million to fund necessary infrastructure improvements as part of their efforts to land the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Leavenworth County.

The contributions -- $2.5 million from Leavenworth County and $2.5 million from the city of Leavenworth -- were pledged in resolutions adopted by the county and city commissions in separate meetings Thursday. They are contingent on Leavenworth County being awarded the multimillion-dollar federal facility.

"I think this is the single greatest economic opportunity for the area in recent history," said Commissioner Clyde Graeber. "(This resolution) is a step in the right direction and one that I fully support."

Leavenworth City Manager Gary Ortiz praised the effort of city and county commissioners.

"I agree with the comments made by the commissioners that this cooperative effort is definitely a step in the right direction," Ortiz said.

The $5 million joint proposal by Leavenworth and the county mirrors a similar resolution made in Manhattan, where the same figure was committed in development assistance.

Manhattan is the only other site being considered in Kansas.

Eighteen sites in 11 states are pursuing the facility, which is expected to generate $3.5 billion in economic development over 20 years in whichever location is chosen.

In addition to the long-term boost to economic development, the facility is expected to generate nearly $400 million to $500 million of economic activity virtually immediately after a location is chosen. The 500,000-square-foot facility is expected to create about 1,000 construction jobs and employ anywhere from 300 to 500 people once completed.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said the facility would be an "economic tsunami" for the area.

"It's a seminal economic development opportunity for us," Wilk said, "the likes of which I doubt we'll see again in my political lifetime."

He drew a comparison between the bio lab and the retail development that has been spurred by the opening of the Kansas Speedway.

"That was about a $220 million investment," Wilk said of the speedway. "This is two times the money on the initial investment."

And though the bio lab would not necessarily spark a wave of retail shops in the Leavenworth area, Wilk said it would attract dozens of biotechnology-related businesses.

"It would become a magnet for these types of facilities," he said.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius already has named a task force full of political and industry heavyweights to lead the state's efforts to land the facility. Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, who co-chairs the task force along with Dan Glickman, agriculture secretary under former President Bill Clinton, said landing the facility is atop Sebelius' radar.

"The message that I want to get across to the community is that it is a very high priority for us," Parkinson said. "This will be a major part of what I will be working on for the next couple of years."

Parkinson said the focus would be on bringing the facility to Kansas and not pitting Manhattan vs. Leavenworth.

"We really want to emphasize that we believe Kansas has two terrific locations," he said. "We're going to work just as hard on each site. We're not going to show favoritism to either one. They both work really well for the project."

Last week, the Kansas House and voted to establish an "interagency working group" to help the Department of Homeland Security assess potential sites in Kansas.

The group would be made of representatives from the state departments of commerce, agriculture, revenue, and health and environment; the adjutant general's department; the livestock commissioner's office; the attorney general's office; the Board of Regents; the city of Manhattan; Leavenworth County; and the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Both chambers also passed resolutions pledging support for bringing the facility to Kansas.

Wilk said the Kansas Bioscience Authority would be in charge of putting together the state's package of economic incentives for the federal government.

Remaining sites in the competition for the facility will be submitting proposals this week to the Department of Homeland Security. A team of federal officials, in turn, will visit each site for evaluation.

The Leavenworth location has the advantage of its close proximity to Kansas City, where a high concentration of animal health companies exist. Kansas City also boasts the newly constructed life sciences research facility at Kansas University Medical Center and the Kansas Bioscience Authority, headquartered in nearby Olathe.

According to County Counselor David Van Parys, funding for the county's contribution would come from three possible sources: the mill levy, an economic development bond issued by county government, or the 1 percent sales tax that went into effect Jan. 1.

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