Public-private coalition financing $24 million KU bioscience, tech research expansion

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, right, and University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod, center, talk Thursday during a ceremony to celebrate $7.8 million in federal funding for construction of a $24 million campus building to support growth of technology and bioscience companies working collaboratively with KU researchers. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, right, and University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod, center, talk Thursday during a ceremony to celebrate $7.8 million in federal funding for construction of a $24 million campus building to support growth of technology and bioscience companies working collaboratively with KU researchers. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — Light shovel work and bipartisan speeches marked launch of a $24 million public and private partnership to significantly expand the bioscience and technology business innovation center at the University of Kansas that has been at maximum capacity for a couple years.

The administrations of President Donald Trump and Gov. Laura Kelly celebrated awarding of a $7.8 million federal grant to reinforce city, county, state, university and private funding for the 66,000 square foot building that could eventually create 225 jobs and generate $140 million in private investment. The federal aid emerged from an economic development law adopted in 2019 in response to a series of natural disasters that included flooding, tornadoes, wildfires and hurricanes.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and science, said before the ceremonial turning of shovels that the project would move KU deeper into the growth of entrepeneurial science and technology companies.

It will help inspire a generation of researchers and produce career opportunities for people drawn to live or work in Kansas, he said.

University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod and Gov. Laura Kelly participated Thursday in announcing $7.8 million federal grant for construction of a new research building dedicated to helping start-up and established companies with bioscience and technology projects. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod and Gov. Laura Kelly participated Thursday in announcing $7.8 million federal grant for construction of a new research building dedicated to helping start-up and established companies with bioscience and technology projects. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

“This is a collaboration … bringing people together to do something that changes the nature of our state,” Moran said. “The goal, in my view, that we should have is to make certain that those we educate and those we raise in our state, no matter what careers they want to pursue, and particularly if they want to pursue a career in science, technology, research and mathematics, that they have those opportunties in the state of Kansas.”

In addition to the $7.8 million from the federal government, the laboratory and office project will rely on $15.5 million in private capital. Other contributors to the financial package: Kansas Department of Commerce, $425,000; Douglas County, $375,000; City of Lawrence, $375,000; and Bioscience and Technology Business Center, or BTBC, $175,000.

KU chancellor Doug Girod said the federal grant was the final piece of a complex financial puzzle leading to construction of the new research building. A structure adjacent to the site on the university’s campus represented the first and second phases of the BTBC and provide space for about 50 tenants. Two-thirds of those companies intend to move to larger space in the third-phase building.

“We have done what we set out to do, which is to create new companies and to create an opportunity for established companies to come and have a relationship with our university, with our students and with our researchers,” Girod said.

This project is the first step in development of KU’s new Innovation Park, which is designed to be a blend of startups, private companies, government agencies and research facilities at KU. The park is expected to deliver 2,500 bioscience jobs to Lawrence.

Kelly said KU and other higher education institutions increasingly served as incubators of business development and economic growth. The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, at Kansas State University is a $1.2 billion laboratory for the study of diseases threatening the nation’s animal agriculture industry and public health. The facility in Manhattan is expected to be completed next year and came about through a combination of federal, state and local funding.

“Our state’s universities and colleges are massive economic engines in their communities and in the state,” Kelly said. “The BTBC is a great example of hour our schools are taking a dynamic approach to expanding their footprint in their communities.”

Anthony Foti, assistant secretary for legislative and intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the KU project was categorized as an “opportunity zone” established by a tax reform bill signed in 2017 by Trump.

“EDA supports locally driven strategies designed to spur private investment and create jobs,” Foti said.

Federal dollars for the KU project were drawn from supplemental appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, which provided EDA with $600 million in economic adjustment assistance funds for disaster relief for areas affected by hurricanes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters in 2018 as well as tornadoes and floods occurring in 2019. The Lawrence area last year experienced a tornado and flooding.