Even in the high-tech bioscience industry, an old blue-collar axiom still applies: Strike while the iron is hot.
Local economic development leaders are striking while the iron is hot when it comes to aggressively pursuing plans for a $10 million expansion of the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on Kansas University’s West Campus. Douglas County commissioners recently committed $1 million over 10 years to the expansion plans. The city of Lawrence also has included funding in its 2012 budget to support the project.
The funding will be dedicated to expanding the $7.5 million incubator facility that opened in August 2010. The current facility is 100 percent leased by nine companies that economic development leaders hope will grow into significant Lawrence employers in the future.
The facility has filled about two years ahead of schedule, in part, apparently because companies of all shapes and sizes have a strong desire to be located near KU researchers.
Many of the companies are small start-up firms, but some — the GPS giant Garmin is a good example — are well established companies hoping to better coordinate research and recruitment activities with KU.
The expansion, which could begin as early as this fall, will be a solid investment of public dollars from both the city and the county. The community — rightfully so — invests millions of dollars each year in its infrastructure such as streets, sewers and water lines. Successful communities, however, also invest in their business infrastructure.
This $10 million expansion, which would produce 30,000 square feet of space that could house up to 25 new companies, is a tangible piece of infrastructure. No matter what companies come and go through the facility, the community will be left with a high-tech building wonderfully situated on the KU campus. If it’s well managed, the facility will pay dividends for decades to come.
KU and the KU Endowment Association also are expected to play critical funding roles in this project, but the major funding hurdle will be to receive support from the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which provided the bulk of the funding to build the existing incubator facility.
Local officials have a strong case to make for new funding. The current facility is 100 percent full with nine companies that employ 64 people at wages well above the area average. And all of that happened in less than two years.
In other words, the iron has a nice glow to it.