STATES BEGIN EFFORTS TO ATTRACT USDA AGENCIES
Sep. 14, 2018
Des Moines Register reports:
Iowa has joined a throng of states that want to land two USDA agency headquarters that Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue wants to move away from Washington, D.C.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority said this week that the state "makes perfect sense as the future home" for the USDA's Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture headquarters.
The agencies employ 700 scientists, analysts and other professionals, and have a combined annual budget of $1.6 billion.
"We'd have to be in the mix because of Iowa State," given the university's strong agricultural programs and research, said Bill Menner, executive director of the Iowa Rural Development Council.
"Any state with a strong land-grant university ... is probably interested," said Menner, a former USDA Rural Development state director.
The USDA wants to move those agencies to better attract and retain skilled staff, move professionals closer to agriculture "stakeholders," and save taxpayer money, Perdue announced in August.
The former Georgia governor said Washington's high cost of living and long commutes made it difficult to recruit employees.
Nationally, there are about 75 land-grant colleges that have a strong focus on agriculture, science and engineering, among other study areas.
Congressional leaders in Kansas, Missouri and North Dakota have already said they're lobbying to get the agencies.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority says it's working with "stakeholders across the state" to submit a bid, but declined to say more until an application is submitted.
Top ISU leaders also declined to discuss the university's interest in the projects.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture said the agencies are important to farming, and the state has "the people, resources, expertise and quality of life here that can attract and retain top talent."
The USDA's Economic Research Service provides analysis of the ag economy, food, nutrition and safety, global trade, the environment and rural economy.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides grants to researchers working to solve national challenges in agriculture, food, the environment and communities.
Perdue gave states, cities and other groups interested in recruiting the USDA agencies until Oct. 15 to submit an "expression of interest." USDA hopes to move the agencies by the end of 2019.
It's unclear, though, whether Iowa and other states will get a shot at landing the headquarters.
Opposition is lining up against the move. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, leaders of the farm bill conference committee, issued a letter Friday questioning the idea.
The senators say stakeholders have raised several concerns, including whether highly skilled workers would be able or willing to make a move and whether critical partnerships with other agencies researching issues such as infectious diseases would be harmed.
Roberts and Stabenow asked for an analysis of the move's impact, cost savings, what benefits are gained from the move, and possible conflicts of interest, such as locating the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to a university's campus that could be vying for grants from the institute.
Perdue has provided no response to the letter so far, officials say.
Neil Hamilton, director of the Drake University Law Center, said Iowa is an agricultural powerhouse and that makes a "good, legitimate argument" for the headquarters moving here.
Iowa's $27 billion in cash receipts for farm commodities last year was second only to California, which received $50 billion.
And Iowa has major USDA facilities, including the National Animal Disease Center and the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, both of which are located in Ames.
Hamilton and others question whether the headquarters will move.
"If this occurs, you'd lose a large fraction of the talent because it's already embedded in and around the Washington, D.C., area," said David Swenson, an ISU economist.
"They'll find other work. They'll not move to Iowa," he said. "The last I heard, people flocked to Washington to get hired."