Archive for Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Lansing lawmaker earns recognition from biotech group

May 4, 2005

A national group that promotes biosciences has honored state Rep. Kenny Wilk for his commitment to advancement of the burgeoning industry.

The Washington, D.C.-based Biotechnology Industry Organ-ization has named Wilk, a Lansing Republican, its 2005 State Representative of the Year.

Wilk, with the assistance of Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Olathe, pushed through the 2004 Legislature the Kansas Economic Growth Act. The legislation, which won bipartisan support, makes an estimated $500 million investment over a 10-year period to solidify Kansas as a major player in the biosciences industry.

"It was agreed that the significant size and scope of the bill and the continuing role and involvement of Representative Wilk has had in trying to build and grow the bioscience industry in Kansas made him worthy of recognition," said Patrick Kelly, vice president of state government relations for the biotech group.

Wilk, who has represented the 42nd District in the Kansas House since 1993, said he was honored by the recognition but said he was only one of a number of people working to advance biosciences in Kansas.

"I can't spread around enough credit," Wilk said. "I'm humbled by this recognition, but I want to be clear: There's just a long list of folks who deserve recognition and appreciation. There's a lot of folks who rallied behind this. It's much bigger than any one individual."

Kansas House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said Wilk and Jordan "brought the bioscience initiative to the attention of the Legislature," and Mays credited their foresight with program's success.

Clay Blair, former chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, worked extensively with Wilk on the research bond initiative.

"He's an unsung hero on economic development issues," Blair said of Wilk. "He has been a tireless advocate for economic development and higher education."

Wilk said his longtime interest in economic development was the genesis for the act. His first assignment in the Legislature was to a committee that studied how Kansas could reap more federal research dollars.

"It was at that point that I got introduced to research," Wilk said, "and I've long been interested in that. I've just always believed that research, when done with the objective in mind of growing your economy, is one of the better ways of economic development."

He said he came to believe there was a better way to develop the Kansas economy than a model that in essence pitted cities against cities and states against states in bidding wars for jobs.

"'Rob thy neighbor' has been the economic development strategy of most states, most communities for the last 25 years," Wilk said. "It's really not a very successful strategy."

The beauty of the act, he said, was it turned away from a "rob thy neighbor" economic development strategy to a "grow our own strategy."

Targeting biosciences in the Kansas Economic Growth Act, Wilk said, "wasn't a random selection. It was well thought out with a lot of research." He said it was his belief that biosciences are to the economy today what computer and information technology were several decades ago.

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