Archive for Saturday, June 16, 2007

Simons: Political interests have shattered Bioscience Authority dream

June 16, 2007


Approximately four years ago, several Kansas legislators, primarily Sen. Nick Jordan of Shawnee and Rep. Kenny Wilk of Lansing, focused on what could be done to help Kansas be a strong competitor in attracting and nurturing bioscience ventures.

Biosciences, it was said, was an emerging field that could be compared to the computer era years earlier. Those championing bioscience industry and research said it would grow into an important, giant field and would play a significant role in the economic development of this country.

Jordan and Wilk put together a plan to create an "authority," not a normal state agency with its high level of bureaucracy. It was charged with "causing Kansas to be the most desirable state in which to conduct, facilitate, support, fund and perform bioscience research, development and commercialization, to make Kansas a national leader in bioscience, to create new jobs, foster economic growth, advance scientific knowledge and improve the quality of life for the citizens of the state of Kansas."

It was to be a nonpolitical authority, free of any control from the governor's office, an organization with a diverse board of directors committed to performing in a manner that would earn the respect of state legislators who formed and approved the authority.

For almost three years, the Kansas Bioscience Authority directors did just what they were supposed to do. They generated interest and enthusiasm in biosciences, they helped expand existing Kansas companies engaged in bioscience projects, they identified and recruited companies to move to Kansas and they encouraged entrepreneurs.

It was a very successful operation, good for Kansas and its residents.

The only trouble was that it was more successful than some had anticipated. Most everyone said when the KBA was created that it was a good, noble venture, but many of those complimentary of the authority had reservations about just how effective it would be.

Within a short time, however, the KBA started delivering on its mission. The first concrete payoff was with Prescription Solutions, a firm that moved from California to Overland Park with an original work force of 850, which now totals about 1,800. Other successes included Hospira in McPherson, American Ingredients in Lenexa, Oncimmune, Quintiles and Identigen.

Within a short time, a promising entrepreneur in Sterling came to the attention of Clay Blair, chairman of the authority. The Sterling inventor needed money for some additional laboratory equipment and incentives to help build a facility for an expanded work force. The business, Jacam Chemical, also has been a success with more than 100 employees.

Apparently, the growing success of the KBA surprised some, and some high-profile individuals in Kansas decided they had better pay more attention to the group and perhaps tie their own selfish political interests to the effort.

The number of Kansas jobs created by the KBA, with the good help of the Kansas Department of Commerce and various city and county officials, continued to grow. Missouri officials woke up to the success and potential of the KBA and coveted the revenue it might generate. Kansas University officials also saw the projected $500 million to $600 million the effort might generate and wanted BIG hunks of this money for their cancer center efforts at the KU Medical Center.

A lot of people had their hands out, but Blair and the authority directors tried to make sure any allocations of KBA funds were true to the stated mission and in the best interests of Kansas, not an effort to help other in-state or out-of-state organizations, friends and institutions. Kansas companies and Kansas employees were providing funds to the authority, and KBA officials wanted to make sure these funds were used to help the state and create jobs.

About two years into the life of KBA, raw politics and selfish interests started to enter the scene in the manner directors were appointed to the board. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius wanted to place her stamp and influence on the board. Other agencies such as the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. didn't like to see KBA moving into the spotlight, and they wanted some of the money.

KBA paid KTEC more than $325,000 to help organize the authority's operations because it was started from scratch. It is reported KTEC paid its own chief executive approximately $100,000 as a bonus for his efforts and the business he brought to KTEC.

Egos and self-interests started to play a powerful role in an internal, behind-the-scenes effort to try to clip the wings and cast suspicion on KBA.

When Olathe city officials indicated they wanted to give approximately 100 acres to KBA, which would give about 40 of those acres to Kansas State University to develop a bioscience-related industrial and research park, an ugly effort was launched by some very close to KU to derail the project.

Blair was told by a well-placed individual that if the Olathe plan were to come to fruition, there would be hell to pay. The threat didn't stop Blair and the KSU and Olathe officials who had the dream and vision for the park from developing specific plans and timetables.

Several weeks ago, Olathe City Council members gave their unanimous approval to the project. KSU officials also approved the plan. All that is needed is for KBA directors to give their OK. There is likely to be a major company expressing interest in the Olathe-KSU park, and Tom Thornton, the recently named president of KBA, will try to take credit for this development, but it was Blair who made the original contact.

KU officials do not like having the KSU flag planted this close to Mount Oread. Although no senior KU people publicly opposed the research campus, several Johnson County minions did all they could to stall or halt the effort.

During the past six months, many false claims were made about Blair and his leadership of the KBA. The governor has entered the picture through those she appointed or directed others to appoint. Former Democratic Gov. John Carlin was added to the board, joining former Democratic Congressman Dan Glickman. Added to these was Ed McKechnie, a former Democratic state legislator from Pittsburg. The newest director is the hastily appointed Angela Kreps of Kansas Bio. The Democratic, anti-Blair directors will vote however Sebelius wishes and they are likely to be joined by Kreps and holdover director Sandra Lawrence to seize control of the KBA's actions and policies.

Thornton cannot vote, but he can influence and poison the thinking of board members.

Unfortunately, the dream that helped create the KBA has been shattered in just three years, shattered not because of any actions or policies of Blair, the executive committee or the overall board, but because of jealousy, politics, egos, deceit, falsehood and the success of Blair and the KBA.

It is obvious Thornton does not like to share the spotlight with Blair. He tried to undermine Blair and claim that if he continued as KBA chairman, federal Homeland Security officials, as well as Sen. Pat Roberts, would pull back from their efforts to get the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in either Manhattan or Leavenworth.

This writer, a KBA board member, was told that if Blair was not encouraged to resign, Kansas would not make it into the finals for the NBAF facility. Thornton is an able individual with considerable experience in the Washington, D.C., game of lobbying and back-stabbing.

If Kansas does not make it into the finals, it will be said this was due to Blair's actions and policies, while if it does get into the finals, it will be because of Thornton's leadership.

It's a mean, nasty game.

The dumping of Blair - he actually resigned, but he was not going to be reappointed - has created great anger among many state legislators. They are angry because they worry that KBA funds now will be handed out for reasons other than what is in the best interest of Kansas. They are angry because of what they believe were inappropriate actions by people working on behalf of KU, such as David Adkins, a former state senator who served in the Legislature with McKechnie and now works for Barbara Atkinson at the KU Medical Center. It is interesting that McKechnie had been quick to criticize Blair and the board for a lack of transparency before he ever attended a meeting. Adkins' criticisms bear about as much validity as those of his friend McKechnie.

What has happened is not good for the state of Kansas, not good for the KBA and not good for KU.

Blair has been accused of a conflict of interest and ethical lapses. As has been noted in numerous news stories, all of Blair's actions were approved by the KBA's executive committee or the entire board. He did not do anything by which he personally profited. He suggested hiring consultants or professionals he knew and had used in his own development projects because he knew they would get the job done on time and within the budget.

He and his staff were extremely careful in salaries and office expenses. In fact, their expenses pale by comparison to the costs Thornton is racking up.

In most any venture, particularly a new innovative effort such as what was envisioned by Jordan and Wilk, there are bound to be some mistakes, or, if not mistakes, actions that those at the start of such an effort might like to do differently.

This probably is the case with KBA, but nothing was done deliberately to break any laws or not perform in a manner that earned the respect of state legislators and residents. There was no deliberate conflict of interest. If there was, then all members of the board and executive committee share the blame because they all approved every action by Blair.

What a shame to see KBA crippled by selfish, political interests and hungry egos.


Richard Heckler 11 years ago

Politics, egos and deceit sound quite familiar in the world of Lawrence politics and bad planning wouldn't you say Mr. Simons when we speak of the last election and the bad planning of Lawrence,Kansas. But the world company is part of that however that seems to make it okay.

Frankly I believe you to be obessed with Kathleen Sebelius and this Clay Blair matter and waste far too much media space on the subject.

My sincere wish is that you could find the identical time and space to devote on the matter of bringing Green Collar Industries to Lawrence,Kansas. This is the wave of the future and may not require bundles of our local and state tax dollars thus eliminating a good deal of politics. Green Collar Industries wear both white and blue collars plus good wages.

Students are good for business and have been a primary industry for Lawrence of which you know. Why not expand on this industry? This brings up the other item on my wish list which could sure use your support. That being a state of the art Vo-Tech Campus. If there is one area Lawrence can compete it is education. Why not support more investment in this area?

Both suggestions would be far more healthier for the Lawrence economy than more big box retail. Why? Because both Green Collar and education are solid industries.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 11 years ago

Kathleen Sebelius may well go down as the most corrupt governor in history thanks to her Republicrat pals. She owes her election to their money and now she apparently doesn't have either the courage, or the integrity to get rid of them. (Republican) Adkins and his pal McKechnie were denounced by a Ralph Nader project for the sleaziness of a multi-million dollar project they railroaded through that benefited their wives. Now they're back for round two. I wonder which of their friends and family will profit from this venture. As Mr Simons previously pointed out, Adkins is up to his eyeballs in the effort to sell out KU Hospital in favor of Missouri business issues.

Thanks Kathleen. Is there any Kansas institution that you and your Republicrat pals aren't going to loot?

Godot 11 years ago

Good journalism, Dolph. Thank you. We need more of this.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 11 years ago

The real question is what can we do to fight back against this corrupt administration and its foot soldiers like Atkinson, Adkins and McKechnie?

erod0723 11 years ago

Keep KSU out of the area and restrained to where they belong: the barnyard.

coneflower 11 years ago

merrill says... "My sincere wish is that you could find the identical time and space to devote on the matter of bringing Green Collar Industries to Lawrence,Kansas. This is the wave of the future..."

Oh my God, what a good idea. Lawrence is a natural fit for this. The sentiment is already here, and much knowledge and skill lurks within our population. This is a gold mine too, it is indeed the wave of the future.

Brilliant, is someone in charge paying attention?

coneflower 11 years ago

Disregard my post above. I quoted merrill to my husband and his first response was "not enough money for the developers, so that's out."

I'm so sad to acknowledge this is true. We'd need to dump the current city commission (keep Boog) and get people who were serious about bringing jobs to Lawrence - who didn't just use that phrase as a code for "give the developers everything they want."

We need to build a new industry, not build more Wal-Marts and multimillion dollar ice rinks. The vision is there, but it's not on the city commission.

coneflower 11 years ago

Sorry this is my last post I promise. Husband just returned from Colorado. They are building a 200,000 s.f. facility - a Danish company that manufactures wind turbine blades. $60 million facility. Will employ 400 people. Here's the link:

Why not in Lawrence?

Jamesaust 11 years ago

"Why not in Lawrence?"

Well, Windor, Colorado - equidistant between Ft. Collins, Greeley, and Loveland - has a long string of entrepreneurial-manufacturing experience and workforce. The whole "front range" area has glass bottlers, and carbon dioxide distributors, food processors, scientific equipment, industrial chemicals, semiconductor manufacturers, and on and on.

In Lawrence, by contrast, half of these business would quickly get the message that they aren't welcome. Absent the commercial and skill infrastructure created by THOSE unwelcome companies, companies like the one 'coneflower' mentions would never consider location in the area. One can hear the objections now: they don't pay well, they're taking up precious farmland, they have chemicals, this is just a subsidy for business, they are (gasp) a corporation!

Besides, many locations in the area of Windor, Co., regularly make their ways onto lists of the 'Best Places to Live.' You just can't put a price on dry summer air, sunny winter days, or mountain views.

susanparker 11 years ago

Mr. Simons, can you prove your statement that " ... all of Blair's actions were approved by the KBA's executive committee or the entire board." You are on both the board and the Executive Committee so you techinically should remember. The KBA is subject to the Kansas Open Records Act. Can you show us where, in any of the minutes of these meetings, that approval for any or all of Blair's actions (particularly the controversial actions) are noted? Did the Executive Committee vote on these issues? Were these then taken to the full board for approval by vote? Show me ... I don't think you will find your statement to be true.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.