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Kansas Bioscience Authority Shrinks Staff, Stops Investing

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Kansas Bioscience Authority

Facing additional funding cuts from the state, the Kansas Bioscience Authority has laid off seven of its 13 full-time staff members and altered the primary focus of its mission – to invest in bioscience startups in the state.

The KBA also will stop making any new investments in its portfolio of companies.

The recent downsizing was unavoidable, KBA President and CEO Duane Cantrell told The Wichita Eagle

“This is just a responsible response to the level of funding we’ve received,” said Cantrell.

“Our objective is to certainly get us to a point where those who have the obligation and right to make those decisions are in a position to then fund it and rebuild the staff … or if they choose to shutter the KBA that’s a decision that the Legislature and the administration will have to make,” Cantrell continued.

The moves come as the public-private, venture capital organization – already suffering from millions of dollars in state funding cuts – faces possible extinction.

In May, a committee of the Kansas Senate discussed a bill that would fold the KBA into the Kansas Department of Commerce. Under the bill, which didn’t make it to the floor, KBA assets and revenue would go into the coffers of the Department of Commerce.

Both the governor’s office and some lawmakers have indicated the KBA might be a casualty of the state’s precarious budget situation.

Immediate attempts to reach Cantrell,  legislators or the Brownback administration Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The KBA has not been without troubles in the past. Tom Thornton, its first president and CEO, suddenly and inexplicably resigned his $265,000 a year post in April 2011 following criticism over the way the agency operated.

Gov. Sam Brownback later ordered an independent forensic audit. In 2012, the audit revealed that funds had been mismanaged and that Thornton had erased files from his office computer before resigning. A criminal investigation followed. Ultimately, the Johnson County District Attorney declined to file criminal charges. While he found numerous violations of KBA policies, he said none of them were criminal.

The KBA was created in 2004 by the Kansas Economic Growth Act with more than $500 million in tax receipts from bioscience companies. The legislation was designed to promote and support the highly touted “animal health corridor,” a concentration of global animal and human health industries that was billed as a Silicon Valley-like hub of research, investment opportunities and lucrative jobs.

Thornton and the board of the KBA were intimately involved in the effort to win the federal National Bio and Agro Defense Facility for Manhattan, Kansas.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions. Email me at lauraz@kcur.org and follow me on Twitter @laurazig.
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