K-State and AIB exploring major partnership

by Josh Sosland
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SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — A grand vision for a far closer relationship between AIB International and Kansas State University has been unveiled by leaders of both institutions. The exploratory plans include a proposed $60 million Global Center for Grain-Based Foods that would be located on the Kansas State campus but would involve both of the Manhattan, Kas.-based institutions.

The plans were unveiled March 16 during the board meeting of the American Bakers Association at the Phoenician hotel in Scottsdale. Speaking with Milling & Baking News after the presentations, representatives of the institution said the initiative was still in a planning phase, and the presentation was intended to elicit industry feedback.

Andre Biane, president and chief executive of AIB International, said the complementary activities of AIB and the Department of Grain Science and Industry at K.S.U. were a key driver behind the idea.

 “We are looking at our expertise in two areas — K-State and AIB to help enable the grain-based food industry, both from a learning/technical application and food safety perspective,” Mr. Biane said. “Visually, what you see (see images) is whether all this could be under one roof. Two separate entities working in very strong and  close collaboration meeting industry needs from the perspectives of research and talent development at Kansas State and what AIB can do in terms of bridging some of the application capability, food safety and on the baking side.”

Dirk Maier, the head of the Department of Grain Science and Industry, said the idea of shared facilities could be viewed as a natural progression in a process that began nearly 40 years ago.

“AIB moved to Manhattan in the mid-1970s in large part because of the grain sciences that already were there,” he said. “There has always been a connection between the two organizations. And I think more recently with changes of leadership, there was renewed thinking about seeing how we can renew what we always thought could be a successful partnership but perhaps hasn’t always been as active or synergistic as could be the case.

“We both are in aging or aged facilities that need updating so that we can train students and industry professionals, respectively, and conduct research in state-of-the-art facilities. Either we have to do it separately in our individual locations, or, since we are serving the same grain-based food industry, why not approach the industry together and say, ‘How about establishing for the next 50 years a global center for grain-based foods?’”

Offering further detail about how the two institutions would work together was John Floros, dean of the K-State College of Agriculture.

“If we could join forces,” Dr. Floros said. “If we could make it work, there might be a possibility for a very good synergy. They have facilities, and we have facilities. They need facilities, and we need facilities. If we work together, perhaps we could end up with a facility that is both better and better utilized.”

For AIB, the teaching labs would be beneficial as would the ability to do student training at the same time that client-based products was being conducted. Presently, AIB can’t do the two simultaneously.

As a practical example of the complementary nature of the organizations, Mr. Biane said AIB has no extrusion technology.

“So we have to go down the street to K.S.U. to use theirs,” he said. “They don’t have a pilot bakery, so they come to us for bread and tortillas. The essence of innovation is much easier when you are right down the hall from one another.”

Dr. Maier continued, “We’re in the same town. A mile apart. But being in the same building would create a certain synergy and would encourage innovation.”

Under the preliminary plans, the Global Center for Grain-Based Foods would be built on the Grain Science Complex of K.S.U. Located across from the Kansas State football stadium, the 16-acre complex began life in the early 2000s with plans for five buildings. 

The complex includes the Hal Ross Flour Mill, the Bioprocessing and Industrial Value Added Program (BIVAP), the Kansas Crop Improvement Association, the International Grains Program and the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center. Most recently, in 2011, the O.H. Kruse Feed Technology Innovation Center opened its doors.

From the time the complex was unveiled, a teaching, research and baking facility were envisioned as the final building to be constructed.

In preliminary drawings presented to the bakers, the project was depicted in two phases with Phase 1 to include pilot plants and a training facility to be built as an expansion of the BIVAP building. The 45,000-square-foot project would be built at a cost of $18 million to $20 million. The second phase would include K.S.U. and AIB learning, research and training facilities connected by an enclosed bridge to the BIVAP building. This phase would feature 107,600 feet and would cost $37 million to $40 million.

According to a preliminary timeline for the project, six months would be spent seeking project approval, two years raising funds and 13 months for construction.

Asked whether it was possible AIB would simply be incorporated into Kansas State, Mr. Biane said both groups see the two organizations remaining independent.

All three men emphasized that no decision has been made about whether the project will move forward, and important details about how the partnership would work have yet to be negotiated.

“We’re here to take the temperature of the industry, to see whether they are behind us,” Dr. Maier said.

The full interview of Mr. Biane, Dr. Maier and Dr. Floros, will be published in the April 2 issue of Milling & Baking News.
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