Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sen. Roberts to tout lab in speech to Kansas legislators

January 31, 2007

Kansas legislators will have the opportunity to hear how important to the state the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility could be when U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts addresses them next Monday.

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. The NBAF, as it is being called by those who are most involved in the process, will replace an existing facility for plant and animal disease research on Plum Island, off the tip of Long Island in New York.

"Competition across the country for this facility is intense," said Roberts, R-Kan. "However, Kansas is well-positioned and fits the Department of Homeland Security criteria."

The two Kansas sites are in Leavenworth and Manhattan. Columbia, Mo., also is pursuing the facility, as is Stillwater, Okla., among others in the region.

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.

The proposed facility has earned the attention of a number of public and private organizations, which hope to increase the chances of bringing the facility to Kansas.

The Kansas Bioscience Authority has done a lot of work in terms of advocating for the facility. Chairman Clay Blair said having the facility in Kansas would provide the state with much-deserved national recognition.

"The results will be immeasurable. The facility will quadruple the amount of federal money coming to the state of Kansas," Blair said. "I'm quite pleased with Pat Roberts joining a distinguished leadership team that exists already, led by Governor Sebelius."

Last week, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed a task force to work on bringing the lab to Kansas.

Blair underscored the point that a substantial amount of effort would be needed to secure the facility for Kansas.

"This is not going to be a short process. It's going to be a long sprint," he said.

Kansas Bioscience Authority President and CEO Tom Thornton will provide leadership for the effort, Blair said.

Thornton said the state had put together an aggressive proposal for securing the facility, but other states are doing the same.

"This is a massive investment by the federal government. No state is going to walk away with this," Thornton said. "It's difficult to put odds on, but the work we've done has put us in a very good position."

Team effort

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R.-Lansing, who has been recognized as an important supporter of bioscience initiatives, said he was "thrilled" that Roberts would speak to the Legislature as part of his efforts to bring NBAF to Kansas.

"That's the way we're going to win this, with everyone pulling in the same direction," Wilk said. "I think NBAF represents a seminal opportunity for our state and the region. This has the potential to revamp the local economy."

He compared the potential for growth in Kansas with what happened in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., in the 1980s. After the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences was located there, the community experienced tremendous growth and development, he said.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to consider a number of factors when choosing a site, including existing resources, location, security and public support, which will be one of the state's greatest strengths, Thornton said.

"A key part of our proposal is public support. We don't want to see editorials that this is bad, as is happening over in Columbia, Missouri," Thornton said.

Negative elsewhere

So far, reaction in Kansas has been positive. Not so elsewhere.

Neighbors of proposed sites in other states, particularly in Missouri and California, have expressed concerns that this facility should not be located near their homes.

In Missouri, residents spoke at a public hearing urging the University of Missouri to consider locations farther from populated areas. In California, a city council member said he didn't think the facility would benefit his city.

Thornton said concerns generally fit into four categories: That a community already had plans for a proposed site, that the facilities would be working with "nasty stuff," that the community would rather work on pharmaceuticals or that the area did not have existing infrastructure to support the proposal.

Thornton said the sites in Kansas were ideal for this sort of activity. He also pointed out that Kansas State University already is doing similar research.

"We've already come to terms with those substances being nearby," he said.

Thornton also suggested that Kansas was already set up to work on plant and animal bioscience, rather than pharmaceuticals, especially in light of the more than 100 animal science companies based in the Kansas City area.

Roberts will speak at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 5, in the Kansas House chamber.

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