Archive for Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Speaker: Bioscience firms within reach

September 21, 2005

Tonganoxie appears to be well-situated to compete for businesses related to the state's bioscience industry, according to the president of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

The Kansas City area's success in attracting the Stowers Institute for Medical Research illustrated that the Midwest can compete with both the east and west coast.

"You don't need oceans," William Duncan said. "You don't need mountains. ... You don't have to have all of that stuff."

He cited the high cost of living in other regions.

"We have some distinct economic advantages in this region," Duncan said.

He said biotech businesses are interested in burn rates -- and those burn rates are much slower in the Midwest.

"They're burning money," Duncan said. "They can last a lot longer."

Duncan's positive view of the Midwest -- and of Tonganoxie's potential role in the biosciences industry -- was good news for the Tonganoxie area residents gathered last Friday for a meeting of the Tonganoxie Bioscience Initiative.

The group is investigating what role the city might play in the bioscience field, which received a major boost in 2004 when the Kansas Legislature approved the Kansas Economic Growth Act. 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.

Tonganoxie banker Bill New, who organized the local group, said the initiative's efforts are aimed at a better future.

"I think we're all here because we're interested in Tonganoxie and making it a better community," said New, who is chairman of the board of First State Bank and Trust, which is based in Tonganoxie.

In the future, he said, Tonganoxie will change a great deal, and it is up to members of the community to determine whether that growth will result in a progressive community.

He quoted Yogi Berra: "If you don't know where you're going you'll probably end up somewhere else."

The Tonganoxie initiative, which met Friday at the local VFW post, still is in the organizational phase, New said. And new members are welcome to join the group, which likely will meet again next month. In the future, the group will gain more structure.

"I encourage your involvement," New said.

Duncan's address to the group was designed at educating the members more about what biosciences could mean locally. He explained that biosciences merely is the study of the life processes of plants, animals or humans. And the hope is that through that study, products would result.

"These products tend to be ones that would improve quality of life," he said. "So we're selling a little bit of apple pie."

It's in animal science -- what he said was an $8 billion market -- that Tonganoxie might carve its niche. About 40 percent of the North American animal-heath market is within an hour's drive of Kansas City.

"That's a strength that we should try to take advantage of right now," he said. ''... Believe me, you're not that far from the city. I got over here from downtown in 25 minutes. I can go to Houston, and it's going to take me 30 minutes to get around the block."

And although Tonganoxie probably won't land a major player in agri-science, Duncan said it's worth looking at supply-chain companies.

"Maybe they make labels. Maybe they make plastic containers," he said. "Look at the supply chain for these companies, be they human- or animal-heath or crop science. I think you'll be surprised. I don't know of anyone taking that tack right now."

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