The Kansas Bioscience Authority has encountered a number of bumps in its first decade of operation, but we disagree with the assessment of State Rep. Mark Kahrs, R-Wichita, that forming the KBA was “a bad idea.”
Without KBA, there is a good chance that Kansas wouldn’t have attracted the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility that’s under development in Manhattan or the National Cancer Institute designation for the Kansas University Medical Center — not to mention the many smaller businesses that have benefitted from KBA support. The Authority provided key investments to get various business ventures off the ground and helped hire key researchers to support the state’s bioscience efforts. Not every investment has been a winner, but the KBA has put Kansas on the map when it comes to the bioscience industry.
Kahrs, expressed his opinion last week during a House Appropriations Committee hearing about the KBA budget. Duane Cantrell, who was hired 15 months ago to serve as KBA’s chief executive officer, attended the hearing to urge committee members to approve a $105 million allocation for the agency over the next three years, during which the KBA will be seeking to achieve the financial independence that was envisioned for it.
State funding for the KBA, which was founded in 2004, initially was scheduled to end after 10 years. The hope was that the Authority would be able to use the return on its investments to become self-supporting. That move to self-sufficiency has taken a little longer than expected for a variety of reasons. The effects of a major national economic downturn can’t be discounted, and the KBA, unfortunately, became mired in political battles and some questionable management.
During last week’s hearing, Kahrs also told Cantrell that “You inherited a disaster.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there was a clear need, when Cantrell came on board, for a KBA course correction. Its supporters envisioned that the Authority would begin by investing in infrastructure and people to generate ideas that would then feed future development. The final stage would be able to get a return on that investment that would provide funding for further KBA operations and investments.
Cantrell and the current KBA board now are refocusing on the final step in that vision. Cantrell told the committee that the agency has pulled back $57 million in commitments to organizations that hadn’t met their development goals and is placing more emphasis on getting a return on its investments.
Several legislators indicated they were impressed, as they should be, with the KBA’s new direction. The additional three years of KBA funding is a good investment for the state. The agency has more than proven its worth and deserves an opportunity to become a stable, ongoing asset for Kansas.