After beating out 135 other applicants, Kansas City is slated to become the new home to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The move will bring about 550 jobs to the Kansas City region.
Missouri Farm Bureau was an early and vocal supporter of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s proposal to move these agencies closer to the people they serve. Both Kansas City and St. Louis made strong bids, with St. Louis making the shortlist of three alternate sites.
When Secretary Perdue announced the plan last August, he focused on the benefits taxpayers will receive by moving USDA’s resources closer to the people they serve. Much of the talent pool for agricultural policy lives in America’s heartland. A career in Washington, D.C., is unappealing to many of these best and brightest in their fields. This has led to significant turnover in past years, as many employees migrate home to the Midwest after just a few years’ tour of duty.
Until now, ERS and NIFA have been the only USDA agencies without employees outside of Washington. The Beltway bubble is real. Moving current employees into the heartland will change mindsets and focus resources where they are needed, not where D.C. lobbyists and bureaucrats want them. It should also provide a deeper talent pool than the East Coast, as four of the nation’s premiere land-grant universities are within a four-hour drive of Kansas City.
When announcing the move, Secretary Perdue praised the Kansas City area for its affordable housing, easy commutes and extraordinary living conditions. USDA considered employees’ requests that the new location also have access to arts and culture and a thriving food scene. Secretary Perdue said, “The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s heartland.”
USDA’s cost-benefit analysis of the move found an estimated $300 million savings over the course of a 15-year lease. These savings would mainly come from reduced rental and employment costs. The money saved will go into funding for research on issues affecting rural areas and farmers.
Over 93 percent of NIFA’s positions and over 77 percent of ERS’s positions will relocate to Kansas City. The move will be phased in, with initial transfers as early as July and the entire move completed by this fall. Employees will receive moving assistance and can all continue their employment in the new location.
A handful of current employees literally stood and turned their backs on the Secretary in protest during the announcement. Press reports of “more than a dozen” such protesters should not dissuade USDA from taking this important step. Having fewer employees inside the Beltway should be a goal of more agencies. Living in Missouri would do them good. We look forward to welcoming NIFA and ERS to the Midwest and working with them for years to come.
(Eric Bohl, of Columbia, Missouri, is director of public affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.)