December, 2008 Archives

Kansas will be site of new $450 million biodefense lab

Kansas will be site of new $450 million biodefense lab

The federal government has recommended a site in at Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS, for a new $450 million laboratory to study biological threats like anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease. The Department of Homeland Security’s choice of Manhattan beat out intense competition from other sites in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas. DHS official revealed their decision to several lawmakers last month. According to a report in The Capital-Journal, a three-year review of applicants by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led to a recommendation of a site in Manhattan for construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. “The Department of Homeland Security certainly made the correct recommendation,” said U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. “Kansas stands ready to accelerate our nation’s animal disease research efforts, and we clearly have the expertise and assets to get results.” Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who went to Washington to push for the project earlier this fall, said the lobbying effort paid off. “This is great news for our state, both on the bioscience front and with the jobs that will come with this facility,” she said. “It’s nice to have some good news during this challenging economic time.” The laboratory in Kansas would replace an outdated facility in New York state. Researchers would study of foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever and the Hendra and Nipah viruses. Homeland Security’s final environmental impact statement, which examined the potential of six sites, pointed to Kansas as the best local for the laboratory. The decision won’t be affirmed by the agency until after a 30-day comment period. The executive summary of the impact statement noted Kansas State’s strengths in term of the original evaluation criteria, proximity to existing research in the field, community acceptance, the state’s willingness to provide incentives of more than $100 million and a realization the Manhattan site was “among the least expensive to construct and had among the lowest planned operation costs of all the site alternatives.” NBAF would replace a Plum Island, N.Y., complex that has hosted the federal government’s animal disease research for about 50 years. Several farm groups have expressed concern about the risks of moving the lab to the U.S. mainland, but Homeland Security officials say it can operate safely using modern containment procedures. The lab is expected to generate 1,500 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs. The payroll could approach $30 million annually once the project was completed in 2015. The Kansas Legislature approved $105 million in bonds to buy land, upgrade roads, install a security […]


Piracy: The Illegal Incentive

Piracy: The Illegal Incentive

In the civilized, regulated realm of economic development, there are heaps of financial incentives, job training programs, small business loans and corporate tax rebates available to assist communities grow their local economies. States develop enterprise zones, governors offer opportunity funds and fledgling firms form industry clusters. But what does ‘economic development’ look like in impoverished boomtowns, a world away from boardrooms and power suits? To some communities in eastern Africa, massive benefits are reaped from the booties gained by the sea-faring, hijacking pirates that cruise and curse the Gulf of Aden, a wedge of water between Somalia and Yemen that spills into the Arabian Sea. In 2008 alone, the “pirate economy” has raked in more than $30 million in ransom monies, according to the Associated Press. But the pirates aren’t the only ones profiting. Northern Somalian towns like Haradhere, Eyl, and Bossaro actively monitor the pirate activity and actually cater to them! According to the Associated Press, when an oil tanker was captured in November, “businessmen started gathering cigarettes, food and cold glass bottles of orange soda, setting up small kiosks for the pirates who come to shore to resupply almost daily.” Pirates often snap up these goods for free, stock them like squirrels, and then handsomely repay the local businesses with ransom money. Stunningly, this actually creates jobs and stimulates economic activity in these resource-strapped, nearly invisible villages. “Regardless of how the money is coming in, legally or illegally, I can say it has started a life in our town,” says Shamso Moalim, a 36-year-old mother of five in Haradhere. As the international community struggles to quell piracy in Aden’s perilous waters, struggles in Somalian shantytowns are easing up a bit. Unfortunately, by all the wrong means.


Bismarck isn’t sinking

Bismarck isn’t sinking

The economic wise men gathering around President-elect Obama in Chicago will be heading to Washington next month to try to jump-start the faltering U.S. economy. They may want to take a side trip to Fargo first. According to a front-page report in Saturday’s New York Times, thus far the state economy in North Dakota has been immune to the downward pull of the recession that is gripping the rest of the country, wiping out more than 530,000 jobs nationwide last month. Homes are still gaining in value in Fargo, and auto sales statewide jumped 27 percent this year. While most of the other 49 states are desperately trying to scotch-tape fiscal patches over gaping deficits in their budgets, lawmakers in Bismarck will have a much more pleasant task this week — they’ll be debating what to do with North Dakota’s $1.2 billion surplus, an incredible bounty for a state whose current two-year budget totals less than $8 billion. According to the Times report, North Dakota’s good fortune can be attributed to a collection of factors, including a recent surge in oil production that vaulted the state into fifth place nationwide in that category; a good year for farmers (agriculture is the state’s largest business); and a conservative banking culture that apparently didn’t get sucked into the vortex of bad loans that has proven catastrophic to financial institutions in other regions. So, for now at least, the biggest economic problem in North Dakota is a shortage of workers. The state has about 13,000 unfilled high-skill positions. Not surprisingly, it is focusing its recruiting efforts in states that are in the process of chopping jobs. One employer in the hunt for high-tech workers is Microsoft, which is in the midst of a $70-million building expansion at its Fargo campus. North Dakota is one of the least populous states, with 635,867 residents. It’s recent good fortune apparently hasn’t reversed the trend detected in the latest census, which showed more people moving away than moving into the state. ÒOur problem is that everybody thinks that it’s a cold, miserable place to live. They’re wrong, of course. But North Dakota is a well-kept secret, Bob Stenehjem, the State Senate majority leader, told the Times. Dakotans aren’t getting giddy about their current good fortune — they are keeping vigilant for signs of an encroaching downturn, officials said. So while the current economic environment up north is living up to one state nickname — ”the Peace Garden State” — the folks in North Dakota say that if […]


Power portal

Power portal

Anyone who has taken a ride on Washington’s Metro subway line knows that when it comes to making capital improvements in the nation’s capital, Congress will spare no expense. The new Capitol Visitor Center, officially opened to the public yesterday, is no exception. Conceived in 2000 as a modest, secure underground greeting center for tourists visiting the Capitol Building, the project mushroomed into a palatial 580,000-square-foot facility that took twice as long to build at nearly twice the cost of the original estimates. The final price tag for the Visitor Center came in at $681 million. This includes a 20,000-square-foot, marble-floored plaza with a collection of statues including a gold-embossed representation of Kamehameha, the Hawaiian warrior king. Also memorialized is astronaut John L. Swigert, who didn’t quite make it to the surface of the moon on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission but later was elected to be one of Colorado’s representatives in Congress. Swigert was a last-minute replacement for command module pilot Ken Mattingly, who was told he had the measles. Mattingly never got sick, but he did play a pivotal role in Houston helping the Apollo 13 crew keep their crippled spacecraft functioning long enough to return to Earth. Gary Sinise played him in the movie, while Kevin Bacon portrayed Swigert, which probably means there is now six degrees of separation between the new Capitol Visitor Center and every actor in Hollywood. The expansive lobby of the Visitor Center has been given the name Emancipation Hall. Its centerpiece is a 19-foot-tall plaster model of the bronze Statue of Freedom that was placed at the top of the Capitol dome 145 years ago. The plaster replica stands at the entrance to a 16,500-square-foot exhibition glorifying the history of Congress and the Capitol. The Capitol dome is visible through a skylight in the underground Visitor Center. According to officials, enhanced security requirements enacted after the September 11 attacks in 2001 significantly increased the size and scope of the project. Even before 9/11, security at the Capitol moved front and center in 1998 when a deranged gunman walked through the front doors and began shooting. Also adding to the cost was a requirement that architects preserve Frederick Law Olmstead’s 1874 landscaping for the Capitol, which mandated that the Visitor Center be constructed underground. Comparisons have been drawn to the tourist entrance for the famous Louvre museum in Paris, which also is underground and is topped by a controversial glass pyramid. Tourists will now be required to enter the Capitol through the Visitor […]


Bratislava Is Not Detroit, Just So You Know

Bratislava Is Not Detroit, Just So You Know

As they continue their pleas for a federal bailout (hopefully while forgoing end-of-the-year bonuses and use of corporate jets), the figureheads of major U.S. automobile companies took a little left jab to the jaw from, of all places, Slovakia! “We’re in a good position to grow,” says Maria Novakova, secretary-general of Slovakia’s Automotive Industry Association. “Frankly, we don’t want to be compared to Detroit because we don’t want to end up like Detroit.” Ouch. This obvious dig at Michigan’s famed, but struggling, automotive industry comes at a time when U.S. car makers find themselves under a harsh magnifying glass gripped tightly by both the American public and government. In 2006, South Korean auto bantamweight, Kia, successfully opened a $1.36-billion plant in the northwestern Slovakian town of Zilina (pictured). Peugeot and Volkswagen also have operations in Slovakia, a former Communist nugget in Eastern Europe. Novakova estimates 30,000 new jobs in the automotive sector will ripple through Slovakia’s economy by 2010. Analysts cite the country’s skilled, yet relatively cheap, labor pool, plus low taxes and good highways as primary factors for Slovakia’s automatic automotive boom. So, congrats to Bratislava, but why disrespect Detroit? Maybe something (other than jobs) was lost in translation.