U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Monday that cities in 35 states had expressed interest in being the new home of the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Of the 136 expressions of interest, five came from cities in Kansas: Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan, Salina and Wichita.
“Why are we interested? Well, jobs and investment are the two biggest reasons why we’re interested in one, or both, of the USDA offices moving here,” said Mitch Robinson, executive director of the Salina Economic Development Organization.
Salina EDO submitted the expression of interest to USDA, and Robinson said he believes Salina meets many of the criteria USDA is looking for.
The USDA cited wanting to have resources more centrally located to stakeholders who live far from Washington, D.C. — the current home of NIFA and ERS — as well as savings to taxpayers on employment costs and rent as reasons for the relocation.
“Kansas is obviously a low cost place compared to the metro D.C. area,” Robinson said. “But I think we also have a lot to offer with a Kansas State campus here, building opportunities and more.”
Perdue announced in August that most ERS and NIFA personnel would be moving out of D.C., and intends to select the new location, or locations, in January 2019.
The Greater Wichita Partnership is also hoping to bring one or both offices to central Kansas. Executive Vice President of Economic Development Andrew Nave said Wichita is an ideal place for expansion for the agriculture industry.
“Agriculture is a key industry for the greater Wichita region. Due to our advantages, it was identified in the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth plan as a sector prime for growth, which is why we compete for companies and expansions in this industry,” Nave said. “As the largest city in Kansas, we also have significant research capacity that could benefit USDA ERS and NIFA offices.”
The cities are still in the dark, other than knowing the decision is expected to be made in January. While Salina is the smallest Kansas city interested in the relocation, Robinson said he thinks they would be a good fit.
“Our chances are zero if we don’t apply,” he said. “We are the smallest community that applied from Kansas, but we have a lot of opportunities that we want to show USDA.”