Indiana loses bid for USDA research agency offices

Indiana will not be the new home to two research agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that are relocating outside of Washington, D.C., after coming up short as a top-three finalist.

The USDA announced Thursday that it had selected the Kansas City region for the new location for its Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture after being offered more than $26 million in incentives from state and local governments. The offices are expected to bring nearly 550 jobs to the region. 

Indiana’s pitch for the offices—submitted by Purdue University, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration—was one of 136 received by the USDA last year from 35 states.

In May, Indiana was named one of three finalists for the agencies along with the Greater Kansas City Region in Kansas and Missouri, and the Research Triangle in North Carolina. 

“I am extremely proud of Indiana’s efforts to pursue USDA’s headquarter divisions,” Holcomb said in a written statement. “Our economic development teams worked around the clock with key partners to create a superior proposal and coordinated our efforts with leaders throughout the state. Indiana landing in the USDA’s top three showed the nation that once again Indiana is an ideal destination and thriving community for agriculture. We will continue positioning ourselves for further growth and momentum, ensuring we are the very best place to live, work and play.”

It’s unknown what specific location Indiana officials proposed to the USDA. The IEDC previously declined to provide any details on the state's proposal, saying its negotiations were confidential. 

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced plans to relocate the ERS and NIFA in August 2018, and the proposal sparked criticism among some lawmakers, former USDA and government officials and agricultural and research organizations. Those opposed to the idea argued that Perdue hasn’t provided adequate justification for the move.

But Perdue says relocating the research divisions will bring federal government resources closer to the communities impacted by these offices and would save money because of cheaper employment costs and rent outside of D.C.

According to the USDA, relocating the offices is expected to save nearly $300 million in employment costs and rent over a 15-year lease. The money saved would be used on funding more research. 

In a letter sent to USDA employees, Perdue described the Kansas City region as “a hub for all things agriculture.”

“The city itself is extremely livable, with access to arts, culture, and a thriving food scene,” Perdue wrote. “Our belief is that this relocation will give USDA the opportunity to attract a staff with training and interest in agriculture.”

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