The Twin Cities is in the running as the landing spot for two major research divisions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the Trump administration has pledged to move out of the Washington, D.C., area by the end of the year.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said Tuesday the list of potential locations for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture has been pared down from 136 to 67. The remaining contenders include three proposals in Minnesota, one of which is a joint expression of interest from the University of Minnesota, Greater MSP and the Minnesota Food and Agriculture Initiative.
Investors in Falcon Heights and Shakopee also are still in the running, as are Madison, Wis., five potential locations in Iowa and nine in Illinois.
Brian Buhr, dean of the U’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, said the Twin Cities should be a natural choice, given the scope of agriculture in Minnesota, the economic academic clout of the U and Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the network of large food-related companies in the metro area and the large airport.
“It’s kind of a perfect fit,” Buhr said. “It’s about as close as you can get, with the fifth- or sixth-largest state in agriculture. The network of knowledgeable workers in this space is probably greater than in any other city; you’ve got a major, multidisciplinary university.”
The U already works closely with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds and helps coordinate agricultural research at land grant universities across the country.
Many in the formal statistics field and former officials in the two agencies have expressed their opposition to the plan to move the offices, and reiterated that on Tuesday. But Perdue said the plan to move the offices is going ahead.
“Relocation 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,” he said in a statement.
Greater MSP in 2018 sent to the USDA a five-page statement of interest, which included identification of about 160,000 square feet of office space near the U that might be available.
It’s not clear exactly how many jobs the federal agencies would bring to the Twin Cities, but it would be at least hundreds, said Joel Akason, a senior vice president at Greater MSP. The positions would be well-paid professional jobs, many requiring advanced degrees.
“They’re not really telling us much,” Akason said. “Hopefully we start learning some of this information in coming weeks.”
Akason said the Twin Cities’ ag finance expertise and the talent pipeline from the U are big selling points. The USDA Forest Service already houses its North Central Research Station at the U’s St. Paul campus.
Ames, Ankeny and Des Moines, Iowa, are also pushing to land the federal offices. Proposals from St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., Omaha and suburban Chicago also are still under consideration.
“It’s still a big list,” Akason said. “We for sure should be heavily, heavily considered.”