Bob Sigman — Johnson County’s research triangle provides tangible benefits

09/17/2013 5:22 PM

09/17/2013 5:22 PM

The effort to establish Jackson County as a medical research center has a familiar ring. It was just five years ago this fall that voters here approved creation of the Johnson County Education and Research Triangle and a one-eighth-cent sales tax to finance it.

The Jackson County Legislature has placed a half-cent, 20-year sales tax proposal on the general election ballot in November. It is expected to raise about $40 million a year for Children’s Mercy Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Naturally, questions are being raised about the Jackson County issue. Questions were asked about the triangle initiative, too. It was a new, unique idea and needed to be examined.

The move in Missouri prompts a question: How has the triangle here worked out? Though it involves less revenue, it is off to a good start.

The Johnson County levy is raising about $15 million a year that is equally divided among the University of Kansas Clinical Research Center in Fairway, the Kansas State University Olathe campus and the Business, Engineering, Science and Technology, or BEST, program at the University of Kansas Edwards campus in Overland Park.

All of the points of the triangle were up and running in either new or renovated buildings in less than three years after the tax went into effect in April 2009.

By now, residents in our community have better access to more degrees, many of them in science, engineering and technology, at two high-quality research universities.

The graduates will have the opportunity to help provide new medical treatments for aging baby boomers and patients enrolled in the nation’s new health insurance program. They will engage in research that is vital to keeping the United States at the forefront of information and technology, including protection of the country’s crops and livestock from terrorist attacks.

As a result of the triangle, two science-based private firms have located in Johnson County, Ed Eilert, board chairman of the seven-member Johnson County Education and Research Authority, said in an interview.

Both companies have connections to the K-State Olathe campus. SmartVet USA is a startup operation that develops improved methods to vaccinate livestock. The other firm is Abaxis, which specializes in blood testing equipment for the medical, research and veterinary fields.

A brief recap of additional achievements:

• The clinical research center: The number of patients enrolled in early phase trials, in which drugs are tested on humans for the first time, is up markedly.

“Since the CRC opened in January 2012,’’ stated a recent memorandum, “average monthly enrollment of patients in early phase trials has more doubled, compared to the average figure over the five preceding years.’’

• K-State Olathe: Six master’s degrees and a doctorate are available, along with courses in various disciplines. As part of its services, the university cooperates with industry, government and other educational institutions to advance technology-based economic development in Johnson County and the state of Kansas. Food and other products are tested at the consumer research center.

• The Edwards campus: The new BEST building was developed through the triangle to accommodate 1,000 additional students.

Several new degrees have been added. In April the university announced the addition of two master’s degrees for working adults in project management. The degrees are offered as a result of requests by executives at leading Kansas City area firms, a statement said.

The triangle is projected to have an economic impact of more than $1.4 billion over the next two decades.

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