The U.S. Department of Agriculture has narrowed its search for the new homes of two of its agencies and hundreds of its employees, and proposed locations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana didn't make the cut.
But three proposed sites in Minnesota remain in the running, USDA announced Tuesday, March 12.
Of the initial 136 "expressions of interest" received by USDA, 67 locations remain under consideration, including the following Minnesota plans:
• 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.
Nine of the 67 are in Illinois, with eight in Virginia, six in Ohio and five in Iowa.
But these proposed sites in the Upper Midwest are among those that have been eliminated:
• 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.
• 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 ag department said its narrowing process included "USDA travel requirements, labor force statistics and work hours most compatible with all USDA office schedules."
USDA's March 12 announcement didn't mention when a final decision will be made or what the next step will be.
"The announcement of this middle list shows that we are committed to the important missions of these agencies and transparency in our selection process. USDA will make the best choice for our employees and customers," Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a written statement.
"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 August 2018, Perdue announced that USDA's Economic Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture would move from Washington, D.C., to new, undetermined locations around the country. USDA received 136 applications, or "expressions of interest."
In addition to the geographic relocation, the change would move the ERS, which currently reports to USDA's undersecretary for research, education and economics, into the office of the chief economist within Perdue's office.
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.
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 ERS and NIFA 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.
To see the 67 applicants still in the running: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAOC/bulletins/23601a9.