Last week was a pretty good one for the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on Kansas University’s West Campus.
On Tuesday, a New Zealand-based pharmaceutical firm announced plans to lease a laboratory at the center and hire 27 scientists to work there within the next several years. The firm, Argenta, said it would hire four employees in the first year and add about five more per year until it reached 27. The jobs are expected to carry an average annual salary of $74,000.
On Thursday, another bioscience company announced it also was leasing space in the center near Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. Gyrasol Technologies will bring two employees with it from Santa Fe, N.M., and already has hired two scientists who are KU graduates. The firm specializes in technologies that help predict which drugs will work best for cancer patients.
The addition of the two companies will bring the Bioscience and Technology Business Center to 75 percent of its capacity, according to the center’s executive director, Matt McClorey. “It’s further validation that the model is working,” he said.
Indeed. The new companies validate a number of strategies that local economic development officials have hoped would help build the bioscience industry in Lawrence.
Officials with Argenta, which specializes in animal health, reportedly didn’t even have Lawrence on their list when they came to this area to review sites closer to university veterinary schools in Manhattan and Columbia, Mo. Regional economic officials suggested that on the way through Lawrence, they at least stop and look at the new incubator center. The Argenta folks liked what they saw and decided they’d rather be close to KU’s pharmaceutical researchers than to the veterinary schools.
That choice not only confirms that Lawrence has a good facility to market, it shows that Lawrence and KU are in a good position to take advantage of the growing emphasis on animal health science in this region. The pharmaceutical research being done at KU is a good complement for animal science research being done at Kansas State University.
The Gyrasol move capitalizes on what local economic development officials long have thought would be a key strategy for bioscience development and that is the ties Lawrence has with the many stellar students who have graduated from KU. Gyrasol CEO Susan Burgess received her doctorate in pharmacology from KU in 1980 before leaving Lawrence to work in the pharmaceutical industry. However, she apparently took with her a high regard for KU’s students and researchers and perhaps some fond memories of Lawrence itself. When she was thinking of moving her firm from Santa Fe, she looked at San Diego and other locations, but Lawrence also was on her list. Her quote from the KU press release announcing the decision might be used on future business recruitment materials: “We were looking for a strong intellectual environment and a strong financial support system, and we found both in Kansas. There’s so much upside to being here.”
The “financial support system” is no small part of these deals. The Lawrence-Douglas County Biosciences Authority, along with other community partners including the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and Douglas County Development Inc., invested $225,000 in Gyrasol in the form of a loan that will be paid back as the company grows. Argenta is receiving about $400,000 in incentives from the Kansas Bioscience Authority and is seeking $10,500 from the city and county for training expenses over four years. That’s a pretty minor investment for the high-quality jobs the company will bring to Lawrence. City commissioners also have budgeted $500,000 for next year as seed money for what is expected to be a $7 million to $8 million expansion of the business and technology center. Carefully targeted investments like these are key to attracting more bioscience firms.
Nationally, the competition for new bioscience companies is intense. Lawrence always has thought that KU and the city’s location in a growing bioscience corridor would help it stand up to that competition. Last week’s announcements certainly offer reason for optimism that that is the case.