Topeka Two northeast Kansas legislators said Tuesday that bioscience research could become as important to the state's economy as agriculture, aviation or oil and gas.
"It is indeed our objective to grow the Kansas economy and to grow jobs," state Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, told the Senate Commerce Committee. "We've got an opportunity to make the future for the next generation."
Wilk and state Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee, unveiled a plan designed to reap federal grants and tax dollars for research into medicines and genetics and turn that investment into commercial products that will boost the economy.
Committee members appeared interested in the proposal but said they wanted more details about how much it would cost.
Wilk and Jordan said they were nailing down final estimates and could report back to the committee in the next week or two.
"It's exciting. It will be neat to see it develop this session," said Commerce Chairwoman Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe.
One part of the proposal, called the Emerging Industry Investment Act, would capture tax dollars above a certain limit from bioscience research firms and plow that money back into research efforts. That would provide an incentive for researchers to produce profits on their work, Wilk said. Already there are 160 bioscience companies employing 20,000 people in Kansas, he said.
Another part of the plan would establish a research authority to help transform research and development at Kansas University and other research plants into patents and products.
Wilk said universities, in general, "have done a poor job of commercializing intellectual property."
A third provision would establish a Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship, which would provide state funds and tax credits to investors to help new businesses. It would also provide expertise to people wanting to start businesses in Kansas.
For example, the center could help farmers develop agricultural products for drug manufacturers, Jordan said.
"We want to make Kansas a better place to grow a business in," he said.
Jordan said the effort could work in partnership with the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., but the plan was not specifically to lure expansion of that facility to the Kansas side of the state line.
"This can happen without Stowers coming to Kansas," Jordan said; although, Wilk added that Kansas should recognize the importance of the Stowers Institute, which conducts genetic research to provide treatment of diseases.
"Jim Stowers has decided to change the world," Wilk said referring to the research organization's founder.
Wilk said nearly half of all federal research grants were going to bioscience projects and that Kansas wasn't getting its fair share.
"Can we compete, and can we win? Absolutely, we can compete, and absolutely, we can win," Wilk said.