The USDA plans to relocate two research agencies, and hundreds of jobs, somewhere outside of Washington, D.C., by year’s end.

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Updated at 1:56 p.m. Wednesday

Shakopee is among three Minnesota cities on a list of 67 in the running to be the new home for two U.S. Department of Agriculture research agencies, the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The departments are slated to relocate from Washington, D.C., bringing up to 700 jobs to the winning city.

Shakopee, Falcon Heights and Minneapolis are on the list.

According to the USDA, Shakopee’s proposal was made by “The Opus Group,” Falcon Heights by Buhl Investors, and Minneapolis’s by the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership (GREATER MSP), and the Minnesota Food and Agriculture Initiative.

Last summer, the OPUS Group offered the Shakopee Economic Development Authority $1.65 million to buy a 16-acre plot of land on the corner of County Road 69 and Vierling Drive. 

Shakopee Director of Planning and Development Michael Kerski confirmed Wednesday that OPUS executed a purchase agreement for the property.  He said a staff person saw the request for proposals for the USDA relocation and passed it on to OPUS to propose it as a site.

Last summer, OPUS officials said they planned to construct two building to house multiple tenants and be marketed toward higher wage, small manufacturing companies. OPUS planned to develop buildings with large glass windows facing the highway to make the buildings more aesthetically appealing.

A controversial move

USDA Secretary Sony Perdue announced in August that most of the agencies' employees would move outside D.C. by the end of 2019, a decision opposed by some influential Democrats, the American Statistical Association and agricultural researchers who say there was no cost analysis or economic justification for the move.

"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," said Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the ASA, in a press release. "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."

Perdue has said the move would put USDA resources closer to many stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from D.C.

The USDA says it considered travel requirements, labor force statistics and work hours most compatible with all USDA office schedules in narrowing down the list of prospects.

“We don’t undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to improve performance and the services these agencies provide,” Perdue said in December. “We will be saving money for the taxpayers and improving our ability to retain more employees in the long run. And we are increasing the probability of attracting highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities.”

But critics say the USDA is dismissing input from key stakeholders. ASA President Karen Kafadar thanked Congress for expressing its concerns and seeking clarity from the USDA on the rationale, costs and impacts of the move, but said the announcement Tuesday dismisses input from customers and policy-makers.

"We continue to believe that this move is not only costly to U.S. taxpayers but removes ERS from its critical mission, 'to conduct high-quality, objective economic research to inform and enhance public and private decision-making,' " she said in a press release. "We strongly urge Congress to halt USDA's plans to move ERS/NIFA to protect the research and statistical foundations of our food, agricultural and rural economies."

Wasserstein said there was some good news in the announcement: " The many critics in the non-listed communities can now speak more freely.”

The USDA announced the whittled-down list Tuesday from an initial list of 136 cities in 35 states that expressed interest in hosting the agencies. The USDA says it is following a rigorous site selection process to choose a new site.

“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," Perdue said in a press release. 

The USDA hired Ernst & Young to assist in the relocation. The company provides real estate advice to organizations, including the federal government. 

South regional editor

Deena is the regional editor for Shakopee, Jordan, Prior Lake and Savage and is passionate about uncovering the truth. Deena also enjoys gardening, playing tennis and up-cycling furniture.

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