Local group exploring Tonganoxie’s role in biotech
Is it possible the Tonganoxie community could jump on the state's bioscience bandwagon?
Several area residents certainly believe it could -- and should -- carefully investigate the possibilities. To that end, a group of area residents has been meeting in hopes of educating themselves about biosciences and what the field might mean for the future of Tonganoxie.
"I think Tonganoxie is plowing ground, being one of the first to step out and try to organize themselves," said state Rep. Kenny Wilk, a Lansing Republican.
Wilk should know.
He spearheaded the Kansas Economic Growth Act, which the Legislature approved in 2004. It is expected to pump an estimated $580 million into the Kansas life science industry by reinvesting tax growth from biotechnology firms back into the field by supporting business attraction, business growth and university research.
"The first step is to educate yourself on what is the biosciences and how the opportunities might flow and how do we seize those opportunities," Wilk said. "You have to have commitment and buying-in at the local level, and that only happens with education."
As part of the community's education process, William Duncan, president of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, will visit Tonganoxie on Friday to discuss the bioscience field. The public is invited to Duncan's talk, which will be at noon Friday at the local VFW Hall.
Wilk likes to compare the public's perception of bioscience today to the public's perception of the computer industry in the 1950s and 1960s.
- Lunch will be provided. But call (913) 845-5124 to make a reservation. You may leave a message.
¢ The speaker will be William Duncan, president of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.
"You get the same mysterious look," he said.
And while Kansans didn't get behind the computer industry, through Wilk's efforts, the state is on the cutting-edge of the bioscience industry.
"Overall, our stated goal for the bioscience initiative is for biosciences to become a major part of the Kansas economy in 10 years of less," he said.
That means bioscience would join the traditional big boys: aircraft, oil and agriculture.
And bioscience isn't just about life science. It also is about animal health.
And that's where Wilk and others see Tonganoxie possibly playing a role.
"The whole animal health component is going to be huge, absolutely huge," he said. "I think you can anticipate significant movement from the Kansas City metro area and across the state. ... Animals are used to test and experiment on human disease. Cancer is a big problem in animals, as well. What can you learn by working with animals that might translate to the human side?"
Wilk said six of the top 10 companies working in animal health are within a 50-mile radius of Kansas City. It is a $30 billion industry.
"As far as we can tell, nobody owns that market, if you will," he said. "The advantage that we've got is those major players are here. We don't have to lure those major players here. The animal side appears to be offering so much potential."
For Dr. Dick Dean, the prospect of Tonganoxie's involvement in the bioscience industry is an attractive one.
"As a member of the medical community and as a school board member, I'm very enthused about it," he said.
The group of area residents that has been meeting recently to learn more about the possibilities is in the early stages of investigation, he said..
"We're kind of feeling our way, but hopefully something will come of it," said Dean, a local optometrist.
Dean is the father of five children -- all of whom have left Tonganoxie. He would like to stem that tide of flight from the city.
"We're all interested in our community," he said. "We want to see it grow."
Tonganoxie banker Bill New believes the bioscience initiative could mean great things for the community he believes so strongly in.
"My big thing is, as Tonganoxie grows and develops, I think we, the people of Tonganoxie, have the choice of what kind of community we want to be," New said. "Without direction and some cooperation and all of us working together, we'll continue to be what we are now: a bedroom community.
"I think we can be more than that. I think we can help ourselves be more economically self-sufficient, by broadening our tax base and by reaching out to other areas."
New and others believe that Tonganoxie's proximity to Kansas City will play in the community's favor.
"If we can take advantage of the opportunity, we can create some jobs for young people and higher paying jobs and we can keep our young folks here at home," he said. "And we can create opportunities for others, bring more good people into our community and higher-income jobs, the kind of jobs that will keep our young people around."
And once the bioscience seed is planted locally and springs to life, it could grow.
"Once you get it started, you have a wonderful opportunity to build on it," New said. "Once you start entering the field, hopefully you can become the Silicon Valley of biotech.
"I think that kind of opportunity's here."
Sam Campbell, who's lived west of Tonganoxie for more than 30 years and is president of CritiTech of Lawrence, said while it's not realistic to think that a major pharmaceutical firm would find a home in Tonganoxie, it is realistic for the community to look at support companies. CritiTech makes small-particle pharmaceutical compounds.
"I think it's important for the community to understand the breadth of life sciences and what is meant by that," he said. "It can go beyond pharmaceuticals, health care. There's environmental. Environmental engineering. And it's not just human.
"There are all kinds of examples that could potentially put the city into a support role. It's like the aircraft industry in Wichita."
And Wilk agreed. "For every Boeing job, there's about 2 1/2 other jobs in the community," he said.
The same would be true of biosciences.
"There are all kinds of spin-offs," he said. "There are second- and third-tier spin-offs of 20 to 100 employees."
And Tonganoxie is well-positioned to become a player in the biosciences field, he said.
"I believe Tonganoxie is just ideally located," Wilk said. "One, we're close to Kansas City. It's easy to get in and out. I think the quality of life and the quality of potential services is great. You certainly can position Tonganoxie as a location that's between Kansas City and Lawrence and the major research institution there."
The potential economic impact to the community could be limitless, New said.
"I think the opportunities are limited to us and how creative we can be," he said. "It's the coming frontier."
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