Within a few days of the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s announcement last June that it was in the market for a new home, a Mercury editorial said “Manhattan would be delighted to oblige.”
We weren’t sure the Ag Department was serious. In fact we speculated that the announcement had “the ring of a gimmick to improve its circumstances in Topeka.”
As it turned out, the announcement wasn’t a gimmick. The Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it would move the bulk of its offices to Manhattan in the summer of 2014. It will occupy a 50,000-square-foot structure yet to be built in the K-State Research Office Park immediately behind the NBAF site.
Yes, Manhattan is delighted — and proud — to oblige. In fact, we don’t think the Agriculture Department could have chosen better.
As Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman said in announcing the move, Manhattan offers the greatest opportunity for collaboration with educational and bioscience entities. In addition to the KSU Colleges of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, Manhattan is home to a level three biosecurity research facility and awaits construction of NBAF.
The Department of Agriculture didn’t rush into this decision. It considered 40 sites, about half of which were in Topeka. Secretary Rodman said Manhattan was best suited “to allow KDA to fulfill our statutory obligations and provide the best service to all of our customers today and in the future.” The new facility, he added, would enable the department to work closely with national and international experts on economic and scientific research. Secretary Rodman summed up the reasons well in saying, “Manhattan is the value-added center for agriculture.”
The Department of Agriculture isn’t abandoning Topeka; it will retain administrative and some other offices there, but the vast majority of its programs and jobs will move to Manhattan. The new building will house about 200 employees.
Although the Depart-ment of Agriculture’s move is a coup for Manhattan, the loss of 180 jobs will create hardships for Topeka. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, who has represented Topeka with distinction for decades, went beyond the economic impact and took issue with the Brownback administration’s precedent of letting a major state department move out of the capital city. Sen. Hensley said governors from both parties had remained loyal to Topeka, and called the Ag Department’s move to Manhattan “a departure from that loyalty.”
That may well be, but any governor’s first loyalty must be to the state. In that context, the Department of Agriculture’s move to Manhattan, which will better serve the state’s agriculture interests, makes perfect sense.