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3 Minnesota sites still in running for new home of USDA agencies; sites in Dakotas eliminated

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Michelle Rook / Forum News Service

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has narrowed its search for the new homes of two of its agencies and hundreds of its employees with three proposed sites in Minnesota remaining in the running, USDA announced Tuesday, March 12.

Of the initial 136 “expressions of interest” received by USDA, 67 locations remain under consideration, including these Minnesota plans:

  • Falcon Heights, as proposed by Buhl Investors.

  • Minneapolis, as proposed by the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership and the Minnesota Food and Agriculture Initiative.

  • Shakopee, as proposed by the Opus Group.

Nine of the 67 are in Illinois, with eight in Virginia, six in Ohio and five in Iowa.

A proposed location in Fargo as well as proposals from Brookings and Sioux Falls, S.D., and three in Montana did not make the cut.

The narrowing process included assessments of “USDA travel requirements, labor force statistics and work hours most compatible with all USDA office schedules.”

USDA’s announcement didn’t mention when a final decision will be made or what the next step will be.

Whatever site is selected will host USDA’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The agencies would move from Washington, D.C.

The Economic Research Service employs 330 people who provide economic research on, and analysis of, emerging issues in agriculture, food, the environment and rural America, as well as global trade and food safety. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture has about 360 employees who promote agriculture-related sciences. It's unclear if all those employees would have jobs at the new locations.

Critics, including ag scientists and some members of Congress, argue that moving the agencies would threaten scientific integrity and likely would cause some highly experienced staffers now in Washington, D.C., to leave USDA rather than move to the new locations.

USDA’s March 12 announcement bought more criticism.

“We’re disappointed to see USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue persisting in his plans to uproot the USDA research arm, despite the overwhelming concerns of its former leaders and the greater statistical and agricultural research community,” Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association, said in a written statement.

“The USDA leadership developed their plans without consulting any of the agency’s current or former research and statistical heads or the broader research community. With that community now having strongly voiced its concerns and opposition, USDA seems intent to proceed without course corrections,” Wasserstein said.

Perdue, in a written statement, said the relocation of the two agencies "will help ensure that USDA is the most effective, most efficient and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers.”

To see the 67 applicants still in the running: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAOC/bulletins/23601a9.