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Making Kansas a leader in the bioscience industry will take more than programs to attract new companies to the state, the president of the state's top bioscience organization told a Lawrence crowd Monday.
It also will take increased research funding for Kansas University and other state institutions, Thomas Thornton, president and CEO of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, told members of the Lawrence Rotary Club.
"You can't attract yourself to being a bioscience leader," Thornton told the crowd at the Holidome. "You have to have the core research infrastructure in place as well."
But how much the bioscience authority should spend on promoting research versus building programs to attract and expand new companies is a big question among the nine-member board that governs the authority. The stakes are high because the bioscience authority is expected to receive about $585 million in state funding in a 15-year period to spend on making the state a national bioscience leader.
Legislators will be watching to see how the authority works, now that there has been a change in board leadership within the last month.
"I'll have to see how they are moving," state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said when asked whether she was optimistic about the board's future operations. Ballard attended Thornton's speech Monday.
An audience member asked Thornton about recent media reports that the nine-member board is divided about the direction the authority should take. The board has been in a transition period since Clay Blair, the authority's original chairman, resigned in early June amid questions about expenses charged to the authority. Some members have questioned those expenses. Others have defended Blair, and have said he was unfairly criticized.
Last week, the board split on who should replace Blair. On a 6-3 vote, the board chose as chairwoman Sandra Lawrence, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics. She was chosen over Bill Sanford, president and CEO of Nanoscale Materials, who is the board's vice chairman.
After the meeting, Sanford expressed concern that the board may be moving in a direction of funding more research activities and fewer entrepreneurial programs to help bioscience businesses grow or locate in Kansas.
Lawrence, the board's new chairwoman, also is chairwoman of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which helped create a "blue ribbon" report on education in the Kansas City area that recommends significant amounts of new research funding for the Kansas University Medical Center.
Among members of the authority's board is Dolph C. Simons Jr., chairman of The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World.
Thornton on Monday said more research funding may be appropriate. He said the state legislation that created the bioscience authority clearly envisioned that the authority would support research efforts.
He said additional research efforts would give the state the "people power" that companies often seek when choosing where to locate. Additional research funding also will increase the state's chances of creating home-grown bioscience companies as researcher take their ideas and spin them off into new companies, he said.
Ballard, though, said state legislators placed a great deal of importance on the authority's programs to attract new companies and expand existing ones. Ballard said she was not opposed to the authority funding more basic research functions, as long as it didn't come at the expense of the authority's programs to attract new companies to the state.
"The attraction portion of this, I think, is what a lot of legislators voted on," Ballard said of legislation that created the authority about two years ago.