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Kansas and regional news

Kansas and regional news

Roberts to push lab effort at Legislature

Senator to encourage state support at rare joint session

February 5, 2007

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In Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and bioscience leaders have rolled out the political big guns to try to bring a $451 million national defense laboratory to Leavenworth or Manhattan.

Roberts will give a rare address to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature today to encourage more state support for the project.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other agencies are considering 18 sites in 11 states for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which will be used to study biological and agricultural diseases.

"This would be sort of analogous to getting to the Olympics and having 18 world-class sprinters that you can't separate very much and you just can't predict who (the winner is) going to be," said Terry Etherton, a past president of the Federation of Animal Science Societies and head of the Pennsylvania State University's department of dairy and animal science.

KU-KSU become team

Through Sebelius' task force, leaders at Kansas University and Kansas State University are working together to bring the facility to Kansas.

Jerry Jaax, Kansas State University's associate vice provost for research compliance and the university veterinarian, said the facility would create a huge infusion of federal dollars and be a magnet for high-paying scientific jobs.

"Facilities like this one are really needed, and I think we can make a good cause that this is a good place to do it," he said.

Three other Big 12 Conference universities - Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M - are also in the running.

Other states with possible sites are California, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina and Wisconsin. The next round of applications is due Feb. 16, and competitors expect the field to be narrowed soon after that.

Tough Big 12 competition

The center is expected to bring 1,000 construction jobs, 250 science-based jobs and $3.5 billion to a state's economy over 20 years.

Online chat

Chat at 3 p.m. today with Tom Thornton, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, about efforts to attract the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, and read more about bio defense in Kansas.

Homeland Security has cited criteria that includes land acquisition, research capabilities, work force and community support.

"The competition is really intense for this, and part of the problem that all of us face is that we really don't know how the decision ultimately will be made," said George Stewart, a University of Missouri professor and chairman of its department of veterinary pathobiology.

He also said Kansas and Missouri could have an advantage because of the importance of the beef industry to the region and the Interstate 70 Life Sciences Corridor.

The University of Missouri has worked with the state's Department of Economic Development to help publicize that the university's medical and veterinary schools are both in Columbia, unlike Kansas, where the veterinary school is in Manhattan and the medical school is in Kansas City, Kan.

Texas A&M University is campaigning on its status as a large research university with an emphasis on agriculture, veterinary medicine and science.

"I think all of us probably could step back a couple steps and say this is a federal, national lab and that the lab should be sited in the best place to serve the people of the United States to produce a safe and secure food supply," said Garry Adams, associate dean for research in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M. "That's our approach on basing this on merit as the primary source of our application."

Oklahoma State University and state government leaders there have formed a consortium that includes Advancia Corp., a business that assists in winning government contracts.

Opposition arises

At some proposed sites, in California, Wisconsin and Columbia, Mo., there has been some negativity.

Etherton, of Pennsylvania State University, which is not in the running, said some of the concern is usually voiced by activist groups who may be "antiscience."

But he said the worries were unwarranted and that the facility would not put people at risk.

He said the Midwest may have an advantage because the public seems to be more accepting of agriculture and animal-science based research.

Some groups that are critical of the research center, such as The Sunshine Project, a nonprofit group, are paying close attention to the competition. The group's director said he believed Kansas was a step ahead because of its political strength.

"The way this is being decided - to the benefit of Kansas - is political," said Edward Hammond, director of the group's U.S. office in Austin, Texas. "It is. The people that propose this have to have at least a tiny bit of scientific credibility. Kansas has got that, but the main thing is political."

One example would be that Kansas plans to hire a lobbyist soon. Missouri has not yet taken steps to do so.

Oklahoma, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Georgia also are expected to make strong political pushes in Washington, Hammond said.

Kansas attention

Donald Marvin, president and chief executive officer of Identigen Ltd., an Ireland-based bioscience company with its North American operations now based in Lawrence, said Sebelius' task force and Roberts' address have created a buzz about the proposed Kansas sites.

"Opportunities like this don't come along every day. I think Kansas has been reasonably successful in the past in growing its labor force and business sector, but this is a big deal. And the fact that Kansas is one of the states being considered is a big deal," said Marvin, who is a task force member.

Tom Thornton, president and CEO of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, said the state's effort has included public support from the Manhattan and Leavenworth communities along with strong, centralized political support.

"No state in the union that we are competing against has been able to show that," he said.

Kansas leaders say Texas and Georgia may be attractive sites because those states already are home to some similar high-level security laboratories, but they also feel optimistic about Kansas.

"A lot is going to depend on if we get a site visit. I guess I would be surprised if we didn't," Jaax said.

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