State Rep. Kenny Wilk was honored today with a national award for his work to gain passage of a biosciences initiative in the Kansas Legislature, but the Lansing legislator shared the spotlight with the state's efforts to gain a foothold in the new economic frontier.
Wilk, a Republican who has represented Lansing in the Legislature since 1993, was awarded the 2004 Legislator of the Year award by the Washington-based Biosciences Industry Organization. The award was presented during a ceremony this morning at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.
Patrick Kelly, vice president of state governmental relations for the Biosciences Industry Organization, praised Wilk in presenting the award, calling him a "stalwart advocate of bioscience." Kelly said nominations for the award were solicited from more than 1,100 biotechnology companies and institutions, the 535 members of Congress and others, but Wilk's name quickly came to the fore.
"It was a very easy decision for our committee - our state governmental relations committee - and our board of directors to agree that Kenny Wilk is definitely deserving of this award," Kelly said.
Kelly heaped praise on the work done in the 15 months since the Kansas Economic Growth Act was passed, including the actions of the Kansas Biosciences Authority, the group charged with allocating funds from the initiative, which focuses on making Kansas a leader in the biosciences industry.
"All of that traces itself back to the legislation that was passed April 19, 2004. It what was the seminal event, I think, in what is going to be a very successful endeavor in the state of Kansas," Kelly said.
In the next 10 to 15 years, the act is expected to generate a state investment of more than $580 million in the biosciences; much of that investment is tied to the growth generated in the industry itself. In essence, Kelly noted, "in order for it to work, it has to work."
Wilk said his goal was for the legislation to create a "structural change" in the Kansas economy, much like computer technology did to the world economy at the tail end of the 20th century.
"In a real short sense, what the Kansas Economic Growth Act is intended to do is to completely change the mindset across the state of Kansas. We want to move Kansas into the new economy. How are we going to do that? The heart of this act is the biosciences," Wilk said.
He told the 90 people gathered at the ceremony there were many others in attendance who could better define biosciences than he. But he offered this layman's definition: Better health care for humans and animals; safer and better foods for humans and animals; a cleaner and better environment, and a higher quality of life for all.
Lt. Gov. John Moore, who spoke at the event, said the work that could be done through the initiative can be life-changing.
"What is forgotten is the extent to which the world can benefit, and really that's not an understatement: When you bring your best and brightest together at your universities - be they rising stars or recognized scholars; when you facilitate the expansion of biosciences facilities; when you find a qualified work force that can fill a critically important positions to mission : then you create a technologically rich environment in which innovation is occurring and recognized."
Dan Richardson, an executive with Hill's Pet Nutrition and president of the Kansas Biosciences Industry Organization, said Wilk's efforts and the resulting legislation held true to the pioneering spirit of Kansas.
The Biosciences Industry Organization created the Legislator of the Year award to honor public servants for their leadership and commitment to advancing bioscience policies and promoting the public's health and well-being. Recipients receive a crystal ball.