Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2007

Top lawmakers enlist for biodefense lab recruitment

December 6, 2007

The top two lawmakers in the Kansas Statehouse are willing to step up their efforts to win a national fight for a prize they consider essential to the state's economic future: a $451 million national defense lab and the jobs and brains that would come with it.

Senate President Stephen Morris and House Speaker Melvin Neufeld didn't pull any punches regarding the competition when addressing a luncheon crowd of about 80 Lawrence Chamber of Commerce members and guests Tuesday at Maceli's, 1031 N.H.

The lab, which would be located in Manhattan, would have 300 scientists considered among "the smartest people in the country," Neufeld said, and they would be doing more than working for the Department of Homeland Security to develop countermeasures for animal and human diseases.

"Getting that (lab) is critical, I believe, to the future of research and development in the state," said Neufeld, R-Ingalls. "Bringing in that brainpower of those national scientists, to build a base for research -- for all kinds of research -- in Kansas, will give us a giant step forward for the future. ...

"Kansas needs to step up and do all we can ... to get that."

Manhattan is one of six sites considered finalists for the site. Neufeld said he considered sites in Texas and Mississippi to be the toughest competition.

Morris, R-Hugoton, said Kansas certainly had the best chance of landing the project, based on the site's merits. Among other factors: Homeland Security could use an existing lab at Kansas State University while the new one was being built.

If the state misses out -- a decision is expected to be announced in October -- don't blame the Legislature, Morris said. Lawmakers acted quickly last year to help support Kansas' application, and will be prepared to do so again.

"If something does come up during the session, I know that the Legislature will be very supportive, and we'll move as fast as we can to accommodate any needed changes or additional enhancements," Morris said.

Neufeld said landing the defense lab project also could help Kansas University secure a "comprehensive cancer center" designation for the KU Medical Center from the National Cancer Institute.

Losing the lab, however, "may in fact mean the failure of the national cancer center designation."

Amy Jordan Wooden, a KUMC spokeswoman, said KU was continuing its efforts to win the designation. While KU officials support efforts to get the lab, they are confident in their ability to earn the coveted designation.

"Getting NCI designation remains KU's top priority, and we are making good progress toward that end," she said.

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