Archive for Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Manhattan, not Leavenworth, finalist in bio-defense facility hunt

July 18, 2007

Manhattan, where Kansas State University is already a leader in biosecurity research, is a finalist to host the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's $451 million biodefense laboratory.

State leaders dubbed Wednesday, July 11, a "big day for Kansas" with the announcement that Manhattan was one of five sites in the country still in the running for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.

Leavenworth was cut from the list of possible sites where the Department of Homeland Security will replace an aging lab in New York that combats contagious human and animal diseases and threats to the country's food supply.

For more than a year and half, Kansas officials have been wooing Homeland Security for the facility that could bring 300 federal jobs and $3.5 billion in economic impact over the next 20 years. Until Wednesday, there were 18 potential sites in 11 states up for consideration.

The other sites still in the running are San Antonio, Texas; Madison County, Miss.; Athens, Ga.; and Granville County, N.C.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful event. There is a lot of work in front of us, but it shows we can play on the national stage," said Tom Thornton, president and CEO of the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

The news made U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., downright giddy.

"It's been a long time since Kansas has been in the final five -- but we're very pleased to be there," Roberts said.

He called it a big win for Kansas, and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he looked forward to working with Homeland Security to have Manhattan prevail in the final round.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who was in Philadelphia Wednesday, praised both the Leavenworth and Manhattan communities for pulling together "to demonstrate the best of what Kansas has to offer."

Kansas Speaker of the House Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said House lawmakers would continue to work to bring the facility to Kansas.

Why Manhattan?

Officials said that it was Manhattan's merits -- not politics -- that got the city to the top of the list.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., said Manhattan is an attractive site because of its proximity to Fort Riley and ties to Kansas State University, which operates the Biosecurity Research Institute.

"(The institute) is already up and running. And, it was very clear they could begin to use that facility without any complications," Boyda said.

Kansas officials highlighted Manhattan's research strength throughout the process, Thornton said.

"I think they wanted an academic environment to a certain extent and they liked the fact they could build upon the existing infrastructure," he said.

In making the decision, Homeland Security looked at the site's research capabilities, overall community acceptance, potential work force and factors involved in acquiring land and constructing and operating the facility, Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie said.

The consortiums each of the states formed to bring the facility to their region will be briefed on why the site did or did not make it to the next round, Orluskie said.

He wouldn't comment specifically about the Manhattan or Leavenworth sites.

The Homeland Security facility should create at least 300 lab-related jobs, plus support staff. The four- to five-year construction timeline is expected to create 1,500 construction jobs.

Reaction in Leavenworth

In Leavenworth County, leaders chose to praise Manhattan's bid rather than dwell on their misfortune.

"If Manhattan is successful, all of Kansas will benefit, and we will do our best to support their site," said Laura Janas-Gasbarre, a Leavenworth city commissioner and member of the state task force formed to bring the site to Kansas.

Leavenworth Mayor Larry Dedeke said he was "a little disappointed" the Leavenworth County site wasn't selected as a finalist. "But there's going to be something down the road that's going to be good for us," he said.

J.C. Tellefson, chairman of the Leavenworth County commission, noted the vast effort put into the Leavenworth County bid and predicted the effort would pay dividends down the road.

"It was gratifying for me to see the number of people who worked on this program," Tellefson said. "It shows me that Kansas City is considering us for cutting edge stuff and not just the traditional things we've been known for. ... Anytime we can diversify our economic development, it makes us more secure for the long haul."

Leavenworth County economic development officials took a similar view.

"Clearly we are disappointed that the Leavenworth site was not selected as a finalist for NBAF," said Tony Kramer, president of the Leavenworth County Development Corp. "But what we learned about the potential for the city, county and state to cooperatively work on a project of this magnitude will have a positive effect on future economic development efforts."

"Our community and others from both the public and private sectors worked hard to try to bring NBAF to Leavenworth," said Charlie Gregor, executive vice president of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Kansas NBAF Task Force. "I enjoyed working with all of these groups and look forward to future opportunities to bring economic development to the Leavenworth area."

Roberts said Homeland Security officials didn't say what Manhattan offered that Leavenworth didn't.

"They didn't get into the whys and wherefores of the two sites," said Roberts, who played host to a visit to both sites by Jay Cohen, a retired rear admiral who is now undersecretary for science and technology for the Department of Homeland Security.

"I was at both presentations when Admiral Cohen came to Kansas, and both were excellent presentations," Roberts said.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, who had lobbied for both of the Kansas sites, said he wasn't surprised a Kansas site was a finalist but was surprised it wasn't the Leavenworth site.

"I really thought Leavenworth had a leg up," he said.

Like others, though, Wilk said he was tickled Manhattan continues under consideration.

"It's a big day for Kansas, for us to be competitive at this level," he said. "It's a national competition, and this is a statement about where we've come."

What's next

The next step in the selection process will be an environmental impact study, which will look at how the facility would affect transportation, the local economy and community, geological hazards and wetlands, Thornton said.

The study will then be matched against the findings from the four other sites. A decision should be made by October 2008.

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