KBA’s success was based on some really sound thinking that made good sense both for the private sector and the State of Kansas. The vision was to build on the already existing bioscience success in the state through strong public-private partnerships. Common sense indicated that much potential remained. In time, our dependence on agriculture, manufacturing, and the oil and gas sectors would have another partner. The genius of the plan was to take the existing revenue stream and put it into an Authority established by law. The Authority would be governed by appointments from the Governor and Legislative leaders to hire the talent to wisely invest and partner with projects in the best interests of the state. They would be able to work with outside investors, making commitments for periods longer than one fiscal year, and not dependent on annual appropriations from the Legislature—a key for private sector involvement.
Successes included providing key leadership and timely resources for Kansas to be awarded with the NBAF selection (National Bio and Agro Defense Facility) now being constructed in Manhattan. NBAF will do the highest level research on zoonotic diseases, the ones that can move from animals to humans. Also, the National Cancer Designation for the the KU Medical Center allows area citizens access to new drugs on trial. KBA resources were key for funding nationally-recognized consultants, hiring nationally respected cancer researchers, buying much needed support equipment, and securing key infrastructure improvements necessary to compete. Both projects required strong leadership from Kansas State University and the University of Kansas, as well as full support from our Congressional Delegation and the Kansas Legislature. These two projects alone will have broad positive impacts on the state of Kansas for decades to come, but it's likely that neither would have happened without the KBA's support and engagement.
The progress in that short six year window led to national recognition for Kansas and its growing bioscience sector and jealousy from surrounding states that didn’t have this engine for economic development.
Then came the election in November 2010 and a new Governor. Although nothing about the KBA was raised during the campaign, within 60 days of this new administration, that all changed. Concerns were raised that we were picking winners and losers (we did invest in proposals with the best potential), that we weren’t distributing the money across the state, and that the administration had evidence of criminal activity within the Authority and demanded a forensic audit.
No evidence of criminal activity was ever brought forward and a year later (and well over a million tax dollars wasted), they had found nothing of substance going back to the very beginning of the Authority. Oh yes, there were the drummed up charges against our CEO with the only findings tied to actions after the audit began.
The eventual death has been long and painful in coming. A tragedy for the state to be sure but only possible because enough legislators went along with the Governor’s actions and bought into a growing mentality that ignores the value of research and the need to wisely invest in the economic future of Kansas. For years, our state has been reaping the benefits of these important investments, but now I fear the only impacts we’ll feel will be the sighs of relief coming from the east, as economic developers in Missouri now see an opportunity to compete.