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Chat about the push for a biodefense facility with Tom Thornton

February 5, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Tom Thornton

Tom Thornton, president and CEO of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, is helping lead the push to attract a national biodefense facility. He takes your questions Monday afternoon.

Moderator:

Hi folks! I'm Joel Mathis, managing editor for convergence. Tom Thornton has showed up a bit early, so we'll get going. We've got some good questions, but feel free to add more. Tom, welcome!

Tom Thornton:

Hi, Tom Thornton here..fire away!

Moderator:

You attended Sen. Roberts' speech today. How'd it go, and was he preaching to the choir?

Tom Thornton:

The Legislature, clearly was very supportive. Having said that, the Senator's perspective on this issue, as our senionr legislator in Washington was helpful in defining the opportunity and the challenages of pursuing NBAF.

oldgoof:

The Biosciences authority is to be commended for stepping forward on this opportunity. What other kinds of incentives or changes in Kansas law do you think we should be prepared to consider for Kansas to advance its best foot forward on this matter.?

Tom Thornton:

The Legislature's creation of the KBA is a real asset in our pursuit of NBAF. We have the necessary statutory authority to put forward the best and competitive bid for this project.

ladysilk:

I have heard that Ft. Leavenworth is very sure of their bid to get this facility. However, Manhattan already has the building for it. What is the status on location?

Tom Thornton:

We're fortunate to have two excellent sites for NBAF. Each has its won assets: Manhattan with its research excellence, existing research infrastructure, and talent pool. Leavenworth, with its 'green field' site, proximity to KC metro region, presence in the Animal Health corridor. Basically, we have two shots at this.

Moderator:

To follow up the earlier answer. Today, Sen. Roberts said the state and two communities must put together a proposal that included financial incentives. You've talked about a competitive bid. What might a competitive bid look like?

Tom Thornton:

DHS has 'encouraged' sites to develop cost sharing proposals which may include the donation of land, site improvements, etc. We're exploring with each site the most apprpriate and competitive cost sharing proposal we can develop now.

lynch:

Mr. Thornton,

Why is Kansas a more desirable location for this facility than some of the larger states like Texas?

Tom Thornton:

Bottomline, it's not one thing, but the aggregate of several factors: (1) research excellence; (2) existing infrastructure; (3) strong public support; and (4) two excellent sites. Our bid will be won along each of these fronts, not just one. Most other states cannot express strength across each of these areas.

caveatguy:

A question about the scope of the project. Roberts called it today: "One of the greatest economic development efforts in state history" and cited '300 scientists and support staff' but it is my understanding Plum Island has fewer than *100* science-related professionals. Am I missing something? Or are the feds going to significantly expand the scope of work?
.
And since Homeland Security "took over" Plum Island from the Department of Agriculture, running Plum island Jointly with them but reducing their scope of Ag research, is Agriculture going to remain at Plum Island? or are they coming to any new site too?

Tom Thornton:

NBAF will replace the aging Plum Island facility, and upgrade its work in areas beyong just agriculture to include vaccination research and expanded scope of agencies, including USDA, and HHS. Yes, a larger program, more modern facility to deal with a more real threat.

Moderator:

Kansas' political clout has changed the last few months - particularly on national security matters. Sen. Roberts is off the Intel Committee, and Rep. Boyda has joined the Armed Services Committee, but she's new to it. How much will these changes mean to the state's bid for the biodefense facility?

Tom Thornton:

Our greatest assets in our bid is our research strength, strong public support and heavy concentration of animal health companies in the KC region. But politics will matter a great deal. Yes, we have Sen. Roberts and Congresswoman Boyda...both strong supporters but another great asset is our Governor. She's a real rising star in Washington and a real asset in our political strategy.

caveatguy:

What kinds of subsequent questions have we received from Homeland Security, or that we expect to receive, that need to be answered in the next few weeks?

Tom Thornton:

DHA is requesting information such as the specifics of each site, how they would be conveyed to the federal government, evidence of public support and economic data. We are actively 'packaging' this material to submit to DHS by February 16th.

Moderator:

Could it be that Manhattan and Leavenworth both end up with a share of this work, or would it be that one community wins and the other loses?

Tom Thornton:

Great question! IMO, if Leavenworth wins the site selection, DHS would likely want to use the BRI at Manhattan. The common asset here is access to a modern facility which could bridge the transition to the NBAF.

lynch:

What kinds of jobs will this facility bring to the area? Will this help eliminate "brain drain" in the state?

Tom Thornton:

These will be research jobs, most likely from 250-500 new research position. Yes, it could help stem the brain drain as this region has a high concentration of biosecurity talent thanks to our storng research programs at institutions like K. State.

caveatguy:


How big of a land parcel do you think Kansas should develop for a best-case proposal?

Tom Thornton:

The Leavenworth site is over 100 acres, the K. State site is about 60 acres. Both far exceed the minimum site size specified by DGS.

Moderator:

Final question: What kind of timeline are we looking at, for bid submittal, bid approval and construction of a facilitiy?

Tom Thornton:

Our proposals will go in by February 16th. DHS will conduct site visits around March, and narrow the field of 18 sites down to a hand full by June. They will, then, conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement, which they intend to complete by late 2008. An fnal record of decision is expected around late 2008, or early 2009. Hopefully, in Kansas!

Moderator:

OK! We'll be following the process. Tom, thanks for joining us today!

Tom Thornton:

Thanks to all for your interest in this important bioscience project.

Tom

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