Economic development leaders Tuesday evening unveiled an $8 million plan to build a life sciences incubator facility on Kansas University's West Campus to attract promising high-tech start-up companies.
City and county commissioners at a joint study session said they were interested in committing a total of $1.5 million to the project during the next 10 years.
The goal of the proposed facility - planned for a West Campus location right across the street from the university's new Multidisciplinary Research Building - is to allow start-up companies using KU research to locate in Lawrence.
"I certainly see promising technology developed at KU get exported outside this county, outside this state, and somebody else gets to capitalize off its success," said Matt McClorey, president of the Lawrence Regional Technology Center. "Does this guarantee that we will capitalize off of every research opportunity at KU? No, but it does give us the opportunity to tell these researchers that you can do this locally."
The proposed deal would require the city and county to each provide the incubator with $75,000 per year for 10 years. Kansas University would provide the land for the incubator and $1.5 million in cash during a three- to four-year period. The Lawrence-Douglas County Bioscience Authority would provide $500,000. Economic development leaders are optimistic that the remaining $4 million would be provided by the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
The incubator would be a 20,000-square-foot building that would provide both office space and lab space for start-up companies that are in the drug development field and other life-science arenas.
The building - which could be expanded to 40,000 square feet - would be owned by the local bioscience authority, and day-to-day management would be contracted to McClorey's Lawrence Regional Technology Center. That nonprofit organization provides business consulting and management services for start-up technology companies.
McClorey said the goal is to have the incubator facility operating by the spring of 2010. Within five years, the incubator is estimated to be self-sustaining through rents paid by tenants.
Elected leaders generally were positive about the concept, and agreed to put it on their commissions' agendas for formal action within the next 30 to 45 days.
Several commissioners said that they believed the project would allow the city to really target businesses that can benefit from being close to KU.
"It does seem like it is worth looking at," said City Commissioner Rob Chestnut. "I wonder if our lack of economic development has been because we're not leveraging our resources at KU."
Commissioners also said they believed Lawrence would have better luck in keeping start-up companies in Lawrence than the community has in attracting outside companies to locate in the city.
But County Commissioner Charles Jones said it would be important for the city and county to move ahead on a larger scale business park to house companies that grow out of the incubator space.
"I believe fully that if we don't make plans for the back end of this, we'll have an incubator facility that will do a great job of sending companies to Olathe or the Sunflower area or somewhere else in Johnson County," Jones said.
The $75,000 per year investment that the city and county would make in the project would be in addition to $200,000 per year that the two commissions already are providing to the local bioscience authority. Over 10 years, that commitment would provide the bioscience authority with about $4 million. The local authority is proposing to use $500,000 of that $4 million amount for the incubator project, leaving the rest for other future projects.