The Kansas Department of Agriculture’s decision to move most of its offices to Manhattan received support from state legislators, K-State officials and from places as distant as New Mexico Thursday.
Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman told the Joint Committee on State Building Construction that the decision was based on fiscal efficiencies and the opportunity to capitalize on the location of Kansas State and other agricultural and bio-science entities including the pending National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF).
“We work very closely and have a charge to work with the agriculture people in the state of Kansas,” he said. “It’s going through a continual technical, innovative change as it has the last 20 years and will the next 20 years.”
K-State President Kirk Schulz said the move “gives Kansas critical mass as we build our capacity to be a global leader in producing and protecting the world’s food supply.” He said other states “have found tremendous synergy by locating university and state government resources together.”
The new building will be owned by the KSU Foundation, which will have it built in the K-State Research Park on North Manhattan Avenue. The building will be adjacent to the NBAF site.
Construction is anticipated to begin this summer and take 11 months. The 20-year lease that was signed Thursday starts July 1, 2014.
Committee member Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, called it a “good decision” to move to Manhattan to take advantage of the synergy. “It looks like a good opportunity for you all and also certainly for Kansas State University,” he said.
Although the committee didn’t have to vote for the project to proceed, they took a vote to show support. All 10 committee members approved of the decision.
The committee includes Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, whose 18th district also includes Wamego.
“I regret the loss of jobs based in Topeka, but there’s no doubt the proposed arrangement makes sense,” she said.
Kelly said she believes there’s a good chance that although most of the department’s jobs will move to Manhattan, many of the workers will not. “It’s a short commute,” she said.
Local legislators, who make the commute to Topeka from Manhattan, know about the potential of people not moving to Manhattan.
Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said it’s difficult to gauge since he doesn’t know the situations of individual employees. He said it might be a difficult decision for some with families, but he hopes people see the benefits of Manhattan.
“Manhattan is a great community, has a wonderful school system, high quality of life,” Phillips said.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said many will likely choose to live in Manhattan, although he noted that people who work in Topeka live in many places.
“Not all of the people who work in the Department of Agricultural here in Topeka live in Topeka,” he said. “Some of them live in the surrounding area. Some of them live in Manhattan.”
Hawk, who is a member of the Senate agriculture committee, said the agricultural department’s future home at the KSU Research Park is a “natural match.” He said it will give the department exposure to the cutting-edge agricultural activities at K-State.
“It makes sense to me because of the nature of a lot of their work in terms of both regulating and promoting agriculture that a location close to the land-grant university could be an advantage to them,” he said.
Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said the agriculture department moving to Manhattan will also have great impact on the city.
“First and foremost, it brings jobs to Manhattan at a time when federal cuts are affecting Fort Riley and higher education is cutting budgets,” Carlin said.
The decision also benefits K-State’s effort to become a top 50 public research institution by 2025. “It’s going to enhance that research opportunity and push us forward in that goal the president has been working on,” Carlin said.
Sue Peterson, K-State director of governmental relations, said K-State and the agriculture department will be “great partners.” “This will bring new opportunities as we continue the work we’re already doing,” she said. “They’ll be a fine neighbor.”
New Mexico also has its agriculture department aligned with New Mexico State University. That institution is in Las Cruces, about 285 miles from the capital city, Santa Fe.
Jeff Witte, New Mexico secretary of agriculture, said in a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback that the arrangement will serve the state of Kansas well.
Witte said the benefits experienced in New Mexico from working together include avoiding duplication through joint evaluations of programmatic opportunities and sharing a couple of staff position, a strong partnership with university extension, and meeting regularly with agricultural college to address agriculture issues.
“In this era of seeking greater efficiencies, I know you will find this to be a positive development, and I congratulate you,” he said.
The New Mexico agriculture department is structured under the control of the Board of Regents of New Mexico State. Kansas will differ in this aspect as the agriculture department will still be under state control.