If building and filling a building equals success, then the bioscience industry in Kansas should have a promising year in 2012.
Among the highlights:
- The Lawrence-Douglas County Bioscience Authority would like to expand the $7.5 million, 20,000-square-foot Bioscience and Technology Business Center on Kansas University’s West Campus. The incubator opened in August 2010 and is 100 percent full.
- With 2011 federal funding certain and 2012 money less so, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is expected to begin construction on part of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.
- The Kansas Bioscience Park Venture Accelerator, a project funded by the Kansas Bioscience Authority, received its first tenants in the late spring and is now at 41 percent occupancy with seven companies.
“In Kansas we have continued to advance the bioscience sector, and there is a lot of progress on a lot of different fronts,” KBA interim president and CEO David Vranicar said.
Lawrence incubator space
LaVerne Epp, president of the Lawrence-Douglas County Bioscience Authority, said the incubator space at KU filled faster than anyone thought it would. The building brought nine companies to Lawrence and another one to an expansion facility.
“Most communities (with similar universities) have these kind of facilities, and we didn’t have anything like this. And I think there was some kind of pent up demand,” Epp said.
The success has the LDCBA looking to start on the second phase of the building, which would be about 30,000 square feet and cost between $8 million and $10 million. This winter and spring will be used in gathering support for funding the building. Money for the first phase of the building came from KU, the city of Lawrence, Douglas County, LDCBA, KBA and the KU Endowment Association.
If that fundraising campaign is successful, the organization hopes to start on phase two construction by this summer and be opened in the middle to end of 2013. Epp thinks that just like with the first phase, companies will want to move into the building.
“I don’t think any of us thought it would happen that quickly,” Epp said of filling the first phase of the incubator space.
Lots of prep work has gone into the $650 million federal biosecurity lab in Manhattan.
The good news for NBAF is that funding from the 2011 fiscal budget, which was matched by $45 million in state money, will allow for the DHS to construct the building’s central utility plant and to tear down an old grain mill. How much money will come from the 2012 federal budget is still uncertain. President Barack Obama’s budget recommended $150 million. But approval hasn’t come from Congress.
“It’s a complex process. The federal budget is a difficult thing right now given the financial situation,” Vranicar said.
As the physical construction of NBAF is under way, K-State and the KBA are working to the lay the groundwork for research. The KBA set aside $35 million to be spent on research programs at K-State that will help bridge the work being done at the existing federal lab on Plum Island to the research that will get under way once NBAF opens in 2018. The money will help recruit researchers to K-State, train them and allow them to travel to Plum Island to become familiar with the work already occurring.
The work on these foreign animal diseases will occur at K-State’s Biosecurity Research Institute. Right now, the facility is in t he process of receiving federal clearance to work on African swine fever, classical swine fever and Rift Valley fever. Research on those diseases should begin in 2012.
In Olathe, the KBA is seeking tenants for its recently opened $13.9 million, 38,773-square-foot incubator space. Like the new bioscience facility in Lawrence, the building is intended to foster budding bioscience companies.
“We are in line with where we thought we would be. When we start with something like this, that’s brand new, it takes awhile to get the word out,” said Vranicar, the interim president.
The KBA also has 42 acres of land next to that building that is intended to attract larger, more established companies. So far it remains empty, which isn’t a surprise given the economic climate.
“The economy has caused a slowdown somewhat. But we are having conversations with a number of people. There certainly are prospects out there,” Vranicar said.
For the KBA, 2011 was a year of turbulence. Last winter, the organization’s spending habitats and staff salaries were called into question by Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.
In the wake of those hearings, CEO Tom Thornton left the organization along with CFO Jan Katterhenry. An audit is being performed and its findings are expected to be made public in January.
“Throughout this process ... we have been very successful in continuing to do the core work of the KBA. Our staff has been very focused on supporting companies and university partners and continuing to make investments,” Vranicar said.
It’s work Vranicar plans to continue in 2012.