As the federal government prepares to find a home for a new $451 million national defense lab, Kansas officials are welcoming the latest sign of progress out of Washington: President Bush wants to spend $35.6 million, beginning as early as Oct. 1, on construction planning.
"One way or another, this project is under way," said Tom Thornton, president of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, as he left meetings Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Bush's decision to include the money in his proposed budget for the 2009 fiscal year is the latest tangible sign that the project - building a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, designed to ensure public health and the safety and security of the U.S. food supply - rates as a high priority for the federal government, officials said.
"This marks another major step forward for the NBAF facility and shows the importance given to this lab to protect our country's national security," Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in a statement. "I'm going to work with my colleagues to make sure this investment remains intact so that vital animal-health research is enhanced for the continued safety of the American people."
The economic stakes also are high. Kansas is among the finalists for landing the 500,000-square-foot laboratory, which would be expected to cost $451 million, accommodate up to 350 high-paying research positions, create up to 1,500 construction jobs and generate an estimated economic impact of $3.5 billion during its first 20 years.
The Department of Homeland Security already has chosen a site at Kansas State University, in Manhattan, as a finalist. Other sites still in the running are in Athens, Ga.; San Antonio, Texas; Granville County, N.C.; and Madison County, Miss.
Officials have said that the government's existing location, at Plum Island, N.Y., also remains an option.
Thornton said that the $35.6 million would finance work on the project's conceptual designs and other contractual tasks. Work already is ongoing on preliminary environmental impact statements for each of the remaining sites, and a final choice is expected in October.
Now that Bush has included money in his proposed budget for the NBAF project, Thornton said, meetings on Capitol Hill aren't focused on "if" or why."
Now the talk is about when and where.
"It remains a national priority," said Thornton, visiting Washington with K-State President Jon Wefald and others. "This is no longer a clumsy acronym. This is like, 'We need this project.' :
"It's a national priority, and the best place for it is in Kansas. With that, it would be a big stimulus to our bioscience economy."