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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has received 136 proposals for moving the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington. Michelle Rook/Agweek

USDA receives 136 proposals to move U.S. Department of Ag divisions

WASHINGTON — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says 136 groups in 35 states have expressed interest in becoming the new home of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Perdue announced in August that most ERS and NIFA personnel would move out of Washington by the end of 2019. The USDA has claimed moving the agencies would put resources closer to stakeholders, provide cost savings and improve recruitment and retention. Criticisms of the USDA's plan include that there was little input from agriculture, that the move will threaten scientific integrity by separating research from policymaking and that the move will lead to a loss of highly skilled and experienced employees.

The USDA, in a news release on Oct. 22, says it intends to select a new location or locations by January 2019 and will use a consultant with expertise in relocations, identified in the release as Ernst & Young.

"The interest from across the country has been overwhelming as localities, universities, private entities, and elected officials realize the potential for their communities in become the new home for these two agencies," Perdue said.

The following proposals were made to bring the agencies to communities in the region:

• Fargo, N.D., as proposed by the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of North Dakota, the City of Fargo, and North Dakota State University.

• Brookings, S.D., as proposed by the City of Brookings and the Brookings Economic Development Corporation.

• Sioux Falls, S.D., as proposed by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development and the City of Sioux Falls.

• Falcon Heights, Minn, 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, Minn, as proposed by the Opus Group.

• Billings, Mont., as proposed by Big Sky Economic Development and WC Commercial LLC.

• Bozeman, Mont., as proposed by the Montana State University Innovation Campus.

• Missoula, Mont., as proposed by the Missoula Economic Partnership.

The ERS 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 NIFA has about 360 employees who promote agriculture-related sciences.

Under the USDA plan, no employees will be involuntarily separated, though most will have to move. Relocation assistance will be provided, and the agency is looking into voluntary early retirement and voluntary separation incentive programs for employees who do not wish to move.