The innovation campus that Wichita State University leaders hope to build to create more technology jobs took another step toward becoming reality this week, with the Kansas Legislature approving $2 million to help establish it, WSU officials said.
WSU also got back some money it lost last year when the Legislature cut WSU’s budget and capped the salaries of some employees.
And WSU’s National Center for Aviation Training got $500,000 more this year than it received last year, said Andy Schlapp, WSU’s executive director of governmental relations.
University officials were happy, especially given that they lost millions in cuts last year, including nearly $900,000 from the salary cap provision.
The restored and added money were big wins for the Wichita community and will result in more job creation for Kansas, according to Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita.
“The innovation campus is a very big deal for Wichita’s future,” Suellentrop said.
Both said the added money can be attributed to work that WSU president John Bardo did in making a case to legislators over the past year.
Suellentrop said Bardo worked with legislators in selling the innovation campus as a crucial step in doing something Wichita must do to thrive.
“Aircraft manufacturing is a core business, but we have these ebbs and flows in the workforce, and we very much need to get into the real process of diversification,” he said.
“Some legislators last year walked away not feeling good about some decisions they made about cuts,” she said. “Over the interim, a lot of legislators in our south-central delegation visited the campus, spent time with Bardo and came away with a lot of enthusiasm.
“He can articulate a very complex vision to someone who isn’t involved in higher ed directly,” Wagle said. “His skill broke through a lot of barriers – and what really got their attention is that it is clear that he’s got the business community supporting these ideas.”
Bardo recommended the innovation campus months ago to the Kansas Board of Regents. Gov. Sam Brownback put the item in his budget recommendation in January.
The Legislature also gave WSU discretion in how to use the money, Schlapp said. WSU can use the money either to build facilities or to pay operating costs, Schlapp said.
“They wanted us to have that flexibility to get the innovation campus established,” he said.
Schlapp said both Wagle and Suellentrop were instrumental in seeing the legislation approved as part of HB2506, the bill that decided how much money was going to public schools and to higher education.
The Legislature passed the bill Sunday and sent it to the governor.
WSU is talking to several companies about forming business partnerships with WSU and moving into the planned innovation campus, a four-building complex Bardo hopes to construct on the southeast corner of the campus and on half of what is now WSU’s 18-hole golf course.
All this is crucial not only to develop jobs but to diversify an economy too dependent on aviation companies, Bardo has said.
Bardo, in talks to the faculty senate and to the Board of Regents in recent months, has said at least one of those companies is considering taking over the 50,000-square-foot space in a new technology building that Bardo plans to build where the aging Wheatshocker residence hall now stands.
It was Bardo’s idea to build an innovation campus, which WSU officials describe as a place to house “early stage entrepreneurial university spin-out companies and existing technology-based businesses.”