Reflections on the advances of life sciences in the Greater Kansas City region

Ralph Richardson

As many of you know, it was with mixed emotions when I announced earlier this year that I would retire as dean and CEO of Kansas State University's Olathe campus, effective June 1. My 49-year career has revolved around veterinary medicine and the life sciences. In that time, I've seen the fields blossom and become pillars of strength for Greater Kansas City.

The formation of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute in 1999, now BioNexus KC, demonstrated a realization and consolidation of all the life science potential that existed in the region. It created opportunities for industry, academe and commerce to intentionally work together on impactful efforts.

BioNexus KC, along with the Kansas Economic Growth Act of 2004 that provided funds to academe and industry to invest in the biosciences, helped usher in a sequence of events that began positioning the region as an international leader in life sciences. Shortly after the act was passed, the Kansas City Area Development Council capitalized on the opportunity to grow the area's life sciences industry and in 2006 the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor was created. I was fortunate enough to be invited to serve on the Animal Health Corridor's board of directors and did so for 10 years. It was a life changing experience because it gave me insights into the world of industry whereas my viewpoint until that time was through the lenses of veterinary medicine and academe.

Transformative is how I would describe Johnson County's passage of a one-eighth cent sales tax in 2008, which caused the creation of the Johnson County Education Research Triangle (JCERT). This helped bring in the KU Edwards Campus BEST Building, the University of Kansas Clinical Research Center and K-State's Olathe campus to the region. Moreover, JCERT helped facilitate strong collaboration between two great universities and encouraged partnerships with University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Missouri-Columbia, community colleges in Kansas and Missouri and K-12 school districts.

As collaborations were occurring and reshaping what life sciences were in the region, education was changing as well. Distance education programs were serving place-bound students. Applied education, career development, soft skills and collaborative abilities were becoming more important than ever for working adults. It has become imperative for educational institutions to change to meet rapidly evolving workforce needs, particularly educational institutions serving place-bound students and located in metropolitan centers like Kansas City. It has been an honor to lead K-State Olathe as our university strives to serve Greater Kansas City.

Around the same time as the passage of the JCERT sales tax, K-State was investing in the Biosecurity Research Institute, or BRI. This decision showed true resolve to address national concerns about food safety and biosecurity. The BRI, along with the aforementioned initiatives that were laying a strong foundation for life sciences in the region, were forerunners to the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, now being built in Manhattan. It will replace America's outdated Plum Island Animal Disease Center and become the nation's — if not the world's — foremost biosecurity research center. NBAF is a monumental achievement for the region and I foresee it advancing and changing life science even more.

On the topic of K-State and transformation, I would be remiss not to recognize the vision, leadership and doggedness of Dan Richardson, Jon Wefald, Bob Krause and Michael Copeland in their pursuit to establish a campus for K-State in Greater Kansas City. Through the JCERT funding, K-State's Olathe campus was built and proudly opened in 2011, under the direction of my younger brother, Dan. The Olathe campus provides K-State the window of opportunity to meet the land-grant mission of education, research and outreach in the metropolitan region. As state support for higher education decreases and tuition costs increase, fewer people are pursuing a college education on residential campuses in favor of a post-secondary education where classes can be offered that fit an adult worker's schedule and that can be designed to advance skills and abilities rather than simply pursuing a traditional degree. Having a campus in Greater Kansas City has allowed K-State to respond to those workforce needs and pursue the land-grant mission in the urban setting.

In more recent years, we've seen that One Health has become more important than ever. One Health is defined as the concerns that emerge at the intersection of animal, human and environmental health. It has become the linchpin in food safety, zoonotic diseases, comparative medicine and solving challenges that emerge where these entities cross. Establishing Greater Kansas City as a national leader in One Health offers many new and bold opportunities while also complimenting and building upon the region's decades of life science advancements.

It's been exciting to see and be a part of so much progress that has advanced business, collaboration, education, research and the Greater Kansas City region.

Many thanks to all those involved! I look forward to our even brighter future together!

— Ralph Richardson