As head of research at Mississippi State University, Kirk Schulz knew very well how much of an asset a major research university would be in a bid to land the nation's most advanced animal health laboratory. The research expertise at Mississippi State was an integral piece of the overall package that earned the state a position as one of five finalists for the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility, or NBAF.
A location on the Kansas State University campus was ultimately chosen and now, as K-State's president, Schulz continues to carry the NBAF torch.
"Because of his intimate understanding of what NBAF would have meant for Mississippi, President Schulz has hit the ground running when it comes to keeping the Kansas project on the minds of decision-makers," said Ron Trewyn, K-State's vice president for research. "His background in research and economic development are helping K-State leverage this massive opportunity for the university, the Manhattan community and the state."
K-State's bid for NBAF started in early 2006 when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it wanted to close the outdated and deteriorating Plum Island Animal Disease Center and replace it with a new, highly advanced laboratory able to safely study diseases that could impact the nation's food supply. Another important part of NBAF's mission is the timely development of vaccines and other countermeasures to treat, control and eradicate disease threats to animals, agriculture and public health.
When it comes to matters of animal health, agriculture and food safety, K-State has a long and distinguished history of being proactive.
"K-State's research track record obviously set it apart from other research institutions in the U.S.; that's why we were chosen as the best place to build NBAF," Schulz said. "Although NBAF will be a federal facility, there will be many opportunities for scientific collaboration between NBAF researchers, companies attracted to the area and experts at K-State. NBAF is an asset to K-State and to the science behind animal health and food safety."
Lately, Schulz has been making sure people understand why NBAF is critical to the nation's health and safety, and how K-State will help the lab's research become a reality.
Earlier this year, Schulz took a delegation of K-Staters to Washington D.C. to meet face-to-face with the state's congressional delegation: U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, and Reps. Dennis Moore, Lynn Jenkins, Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt.
"Our legislative delegation has been backing K-State since day one on NBAF," said Sue Peterson, K-State's director of governmental relations and assistant to the president. "It's critical that we keep them updated on what the university is doing to prepare for the lab and how we continue to step up to protect the nation's agricultural resources and public health."
K-State also recently learned that $40 million for NBAF's site work was included in President Obama's budget.
The NBAF site will be prepared for construction during 2010, with construction scheduled to begin in 2011. As part of the preparation, K-State is working to have university facilities currently on the NBAF site relocated.
On the research side of things, K-State has partnered with the Midwest Research Institute to enable NBAF-related research to begin before the facility is finished. The research will take place at K-State's Biosecurity Research Institute, in Pat Roberts Hall, during the next five to seven years and will allow the government to begin working sooner on ways to keep the nation's disease threats at bay.
"Homeland Security is committed to building NBAF here in Manhattan and K-State is committed to partnering with them to ensure that it is safe and secure, and that the research conducted protects animal health and public health," Schulz said.
Schulz will continue to partner not only with decision-makers, but also with community advocates and the scientists who are on the front lines of animal and agricultural health every day.