The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday transfer to the Kansas City area from Washington, D.C., of hundreds of federal research jobs concentrated on food nutrition, safety and conservation as well as the farm economy and global trade.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue determined new headquarters of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service, which employ more than 300 people each, would be in the Missouri-Kansas metro area.
"The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America's heartland," Perdue said. "There is already a significant presence of USDA and federal government employees in the region, including the Kansas City 'Ag Bank' Federal Reserve. This agriculture talent pool, in addition to multiple land-grant and research universities within driving distance, provides access to a stable labor force for the future."
An estimated 5,000 USDA employees and contractors already work in the Kansas City area.
USDA's analysis of a transfer to the Kansas City region indicated savings of nearly $300 million over a 15-year lease term on employment costs and building leases. State and local governments offered USDA relocation incentives of more than $26 million, USDA said.
Gov. Laura Kelly said a decision by USDA about the precise location of the headquarters was expected to be made in July. During the bidding process, Kansas and Missouri submitted a joint proposal to the USDA.
"The decision today to move the USDA agencies to the Kansas City area is proof of the value of collaboration between our two states and our congressional delegation. When we all work together, we can accomplish a lot," Kelly said. "While we'll work hard to make sure the final location is on our side of the river, we know the new location on either side will meet the needs of the USDA and benefit Kansas and Missouri."
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., was part of the bipartisan coalition of Kansas politicians supportive of transitioning the research operations to the Midwest. The Missouri governor and members of the Missouri congressional delegation also urged selection of Kansas City for the research centers.
"After months of advocating to Secretary Perdue that NIFA and ERS ought to be relocated to the Kansas City area, I'm thrilled that USDA has selected Kansas City to house these critical research agencies," Moran said. "It is always positive when our government can operate outside of Washington and closer to the people it serves, and I am certain that the decision to relocate NIFA and ERS to Kansas City is a good one."
Moran said the animal health corridor from Manhattan to Columbia, Mo., contained the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world, and the decision by USDA bolstered the Kansas City region's status as a national leader in the agriculture industry.
The corridor includes the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, under construction adjacent to the Kansas State University campus.
Last week, USDA launched operations in support of NBAF from offices in the K-State Office Park. The USDA's Agricultural Research Service, known as ARS, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, joined other tenants at the office park along Kimball Avenue.
U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kan., said it should be considered "monumental news for Kansas and our country."
"This move brings vital agencies within the USDA closer to farmers, ranchers and producers in the heartland and shows a commitment by the Trump administration to hearing from voices beyond the Washington beltway. I thank President Trump and Secretary Perdue for selecting Kansas City and look forward to supporting this transition in Congress," Estes said.
In August 2018, Perdue solicited applications from cities and states for an opportunity to serve as headquarters for the two USDA agencies and pull down as many as 700 jobs.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture is responsible for awarding more than $1 billion annually in competitive grants for research designed to improve sustainability and production of U.S. agriculture. Economic Research Services, the USDA's in-house statistical office, is responsible for data relied upon to make policy decisions.
Movement of the USDA offices out of the nation's capital hasn't been without controversy. USDA has been criticized for causing unnecessary upheaval at the agencies and potentially creating a regional bias at the two research divisions. Some members of Congress attempted to push legislation designed to sidetrack relocation of the agriculture research divisions.
Tim Cowden, president of the Kansas City Area Development Council, said the organization was ready to partner with USDA during the relocation process. He's prepared to welcome employees of the research agencies to Kansas City's "incredible culture, robust scientific community and unprecedented access to the farm, agribusiness, research and financial customers they serve."
The two other finalists for the USDA facilities were a cluster of cities in Indiana and the Raleigh-Durham research triangle in North Carolina. The USDA search for a new location of the research entities originally attracted more than 130 proposals from 35 states.