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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2007

State faces stiff competition during bid for defense facility

July 15, 2007

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Sen. Sam Brownback talks to the Kansas media about the war, flooding and a national biodefense facility.

Sen. Sam Brownback talks to the Kansas media about the war, flooding and a national biodefense facility

Georgia has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and North Carolina is home to the Research Triangle Park.

San Antonio boasts about the only privately operated, high-security research lab in the country. And Mississippi can claim the congressman who chairs the Committee on Homeland Security.

When it comes to Kansas' competition for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, other states have some good cards in their hands.

But Kansas officials say the state is still in the game with Kansas State University's Biosecurity Research Institute and National Agricultural Biosecurity Center. The state also makes up part of the animal health corridor that includes more than 120 animal health organizations.

"These are all excellent consortiums that have been assembled," said Ron Trewyn, vice provost of research and dean of the graduate school at K-State in Manhattan. "I guess I still believe with our animal health and livestock facilities and the animal health corridor, I really believe we have the best (site) in the country."

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that five states still were in the running for a $450 million facility that will replace an aging laboratory in New York. The facility will combat contagious human and animal diseases and threats to the country's food supply.

Shortly after the announcements were made, Tom Thornton, CEO and president of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, said he wasn't surprised by the five finalists.

"They are states that clearly have a pretty strong interest in this area," Thornton said. "We got a lot of work in front of us."

Here's a look at the competition Kansas State University and Manhattan face:

Georgia

University of Georgia spokeswoman Terry Hastings makes no apologies when she says that Georgia has the "perfect set of assets" for the facility.

"I am sure it will be a difficult decision," Hastings said. "When push comes to shove, when you look at all the facts of the matter, their needs, I think we are ahead of all the contenders."

The proposal is for the site to be at the University of Georgia in Athens, a school that has programs in zoonotics, re-emerging infectious diseases and avian medicine.

More importantly, the town is just 90 minutes from the world's busiest airport, which is in Atlanta. Also in Atlanta is the headquarters of the CDC, the public health agency that studies, among other things, infectious diseases and bioterrorism.

Athens also houses a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory that specializes in infectious diseases in poultry and a USDA research center that looks at food quality and safety.

"We're the epicenter for avian disease research in the United States," Hastings said.

Also nearby is Merial Ltd., a global animal health care company that develops animal vaccines.

"I think there are a lot of reasons we are very, very strong," Hastings said.

North Carolina

When North Carolina officials talk about what their state has to offer, they point to a long list of accolades. The North Carolina site is in Granville County.

Business magazines and reports have ranked the state as one of the most attractive places to start and operate a business. It's also among the top states for agriculture and biotechnology. And its cities routinely fall among the top 10 places in the United States to live.

"I think the real issue and why we were motivated to make the application in the first place, we felt we really had the four things that were required," said Dr. Ken Tindall, who is senior vice president for science and business development for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Those four criteria are research capabilities, existing infrastructure, work force development and community support.

North Carolina has three highly ranked schools with Duke University, University of North Carolina and Wake Forest University. Combined, they bring in $1.5 billion worth of federally funded research.

The state also is known for its science and technology corridor, including the Research Triangle Park, home to 136 bio-related companies. The research triangle also holds Environmental Protection Agency and USDA offices and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

While North Carolina's proposed site isn't within the three points of the research triangle, having it close by certainly helps, Tindall said.

"All these universities and industries have grown up here," he said. "There's certainly a strong concentration in this area, and it is a benefit to siting this facility in North Carolina."

Texas

Among the top reasons for a biodefense facility to come to San Antonio is the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research. The institute is the only privately operated research lab in the country that is required to meet the country's highest security standards.

Those are the same standards that the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will have to meet.

According to the Texas Research and Technology Foundation's proposal, the research center studies emerging infectious diseases and counter-bioterrorism. The facility also is home to one of eight federally designated primate research centers and has more than 6,000 animals.

The proposal also points to resources in the University of Texas Health Science Center, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the military activities at Fort Sam Houston.

Mississippi

Mississippi officials won't comment on what makes their site in Madison County stand out from the other five.

Melissa Medley, with the Mississippi Development Authority, said it's the state's policy not to discuss economic development projects during the competitive stage.

According to a press release issued from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's office, the state is working with Battelle Memorial Institute. That company, according to its Web site, is a global science and technology enterprise that develops and commercializes technology and manages laboratories.

The Mississippi Development Authority's Web site also noted that food processing and defense and homeland security are two industries the state is hoping to target. The Web site pointed to the defense company Northrop Gumman as the largest employer in the state.

And Mississippi is home to Sanderson Farms, a major poultry processing company. Mississippi State University also includes the Food Science Institute and the Food and Fiber Center.

The state also has strong political ties. Most noteworthy, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., is the chairman of the committee on Homeland Security. And, the Madison County site is in his district.

But Medley said politics won't have anything to do with where the site is located.

"Mississippi has presented a site and package that is very competitive," she said. "And, if we have an advantage, it is through the site and package and has nothing to do with any political ties."

Department of Homeland Security officials expect to choose a site by October 2008. First, each site must go through a lengthy environmental impact study.

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