The Kansas Bioscience Authority is getting ready to spend $250,000 on an aggressive effort to secure a $451 million national defense laboratory for the state, either in Leavenworth or Manhattan.
The spending, approved by the authority's board of directors during a meeting Tuesday at the Dole Institute of Politics, will be used to hire a lobbyist to advocate on behalf of the state in Washington, D.C., and finance a consultant's work to compile a viable project proposal.
Kansas' two sites are among 18 still in the running for a project, a secure laboratory to be used by the Department of Homeland Security to protect the nation's food supply from hazards by creating vaccines, isolating livestock and conducting research.
When it opens in 2013, the complex would be expected to employ 300 people, spawn 1,500 construction jobs and generate a $3.65 billion economic impact over a 20-year period.
"This puts us on the world map," said Jon Wefald, a member of the authority's board and president of Kansas State University. "It puts Kansas on the map for the whole world. This is a huge economic enterprise."
Wefald considers Kansas to be in prime position to secure the project. K-State already is a world leader in food safety and security, he said, with 160 faculty and scientists working on such issues; and a new $55 million food security building on campus could be turned over to the federal government - "lock, stock and barrel," he said - should the project come to Manhattan.
With dozens of animal science companies already calling Kansas home, board members and their professional staffers figure the time is right to push for the project that already has widespread support from the public.
"This is the ideal place for this facility," said Tom Thornton, the authority's president and chief executive officer. "There is no other place to put it."
But board members know the process won't be easy.
Dan Glickman, a board member from Wichita who served in Congress and then headed the USDA before becoming president and CEO of the Motion Pictures Association of America, said hiring a competent lobbyist would be key and putting together a strong plan would be essential.
After all, other states in the running have plenty of political pull behind them, he said, and a $451 million federal project can't escape elective pressures.
"We really do need to sit down and figure out how we ford the turbulent political streams," Glickman said. "And we need to work it."
Thornton, who once served as a congressional staffer on Capitol Hill, told board members that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius soon would be creating a task force to guide the state's pursuit of the project.
Clay Blair, the authority's chairman, figures task force members would work closely with the lobbyist, consultant and others to see that the authority's $250,000 initial investment pays off - either with a new $451 million complex, or at least a working idea of what it takes to mount such a competitive campaign for the next time such a project surfaces.
"We need to explore new ways to leverage our state dollars, and this will be a major project - to learn more about the process," Blair said. "And we need to engage 100 percent if we're either going to win or learn from the process."
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