If it’s a trial balloon, pop it quickly

If not, state Ag Department welcome here

By The Mercury

If the Kansas Depart-ment of Agriculture is really looking for a new home for its headquarters, Manhattan would be delighted to oblige.

Manhattan is reported to be on a short list of sites the Department of Agriculture is considering moving to; Great Bend, Garden City and Dodge City are the other sites.

Manhattan has plenty to attract the Department of Agriculture, starting with Kansas State University’s expertise in the College of Agriculture and continuing on to a variety of other federal and state agriculture-related facilities.

And as we’re sure business and civic leaders would tell any business looking for a new home, the Little Apple has outstanding schools, terrific parks, good major college classrooms and athletics, wonderful fine arts, strong neighborhoods, an increasingly vibrant downtown, tap water that tastes better than the bottled stuff and enough other amenities to make it a great home for a state department and its employees. And we’re just an hour from Topeka.

We don’t doubt that Garden City, Dodge City and Great Bend will make good pitches as well for the Department of Agriculture headquarters, which employs about 170 people and is looking for space for 20 to 180 employees. Being home to a state department headquarters would be a coup for any Kansas city.

Yet if the Department of Agriculture is really looking for a new home, it won’t do better than Manhattan. Trouble is, the move defies logic. One needn’t be a cheerleader for the Topeka Chamber of Commerce to recognize that as an important component of state government, the department benefits from operating in close proximity to the rest of state government, including the governor and the Kansas Legislature.

In fact, news that the Department of Agriculture is considering moving when its current lease in Topeka expires in the summer of 2013 makes so little sense that it has the ring of a gimmick to improve its circumstances in Topeka.

Although we can appreciate the effort to stretch taxpayers’ money, we’d like to think state officials would be above resorting to tactics that might arouse false hopes in any of this state’s cities. Then again, it’s just possible that some folks in Topeka who provide space for state offices could take state tenants for granted and make assumptions they could regret.

If the Department of Agriculture’s search is genuine, however, officials needn’t look beyond Manhattan. If state officials are undecided after poring over reams of data, here’s a potential tiebreaker: Manhattan has far fewer lobbyists than inhabit our capital city.

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