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Archive for Monday, September 15, 2008

Economic benefits

It’s good to look at whether the state is getting its money’s worth for its economic development investment.

September 15, 2008

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Whether or not the millions of dollars the state of Kansas has provided to stimulate economic development in recent years have been a successful investment is up for debate. Some knowledgeable individuals say "yes" while others claim the money could have been spent in other ways far more beneficial to the state.

The Kansas Bioscience Authority was created in 2004 by state legislators. It was a unique approach to generate money to attract new bioscience-based businesses to the state that would provide new job opportunities and help established Kansas businesses expand to take advantage of new opportunities.

It started off with excellent results with Johnson County businessman Clay Blair as chairman. New businesses, expanded businesses and new jobs were created by KBA's vision and dollars. The 100-acre Kansas State University-Kansas Bioscience Park in Olathe is a good example of Blair's and KBA's vision.

During the first several years, companies such as Prescription Solutions, Hospira, Quintiles, Identigen and Fort Dodge made the decision to move to Kansas. Blair was then forced to resign over phony politically motivated innuendoes.

Since that time, instead of hitting "home runs," the KBA has hit a few singles with most attention focused on entrepreneurial efforts and university research, not major job-producing projects.

Efforts to attract the new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility were started by KBA prior to Blair's departure, and if Kansas is to be selected for this massive project, it would mean several hundred new jobs plus large construction employment.

One of the unfortunate situations is that Kansas University and KSU do not enjoy the best relationship or level of cooperation. Leaders of both schools talk the talk, but that's all it is - good-sounding talk.

It is unfortunate there isn't better cooperation among our state's regents universities and community colleges. Likewise, it is unfortunate KBA is being used more and more as a tool by political entities to further their political profiles and, for some within KBA, to boost their egos.

Kansas needs all the help it can muster to create new jobs and attract new businesses. The KBA under Blair's leadership did a great job but has failed to maintain the momentum that marked the first two years of the supposedly independent agency.

It's good to have knowledgeable legislators, aided by tested and professional business/industrial officials, take a serious look at whether Kansas taxpayers are getting a good return on the millions of dollars spent to jump-start the state's economy - and where in Kansas those dollars are being invested.

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