RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK –  The Triangle is among three finalists for the relocations of two US Department of Agriculture operations, US  Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Friday. The move would involve some 700 workers.

The USDA wants what it describes as “new homes” for the USDA Economic Research Service, or ERS, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, or NIFA.

Research Triangle Park is listed as the location with RTP, Durham County and Wake County listed as the applicants.

According to Federal News Network, ERS has about 330 social scientists and support staff and an annual budget of about $85 million.

NIFA has some about 350 employees and an annual budget of more than $1.5 billion.

RTP already is home for a substantial EPA office.

Also among the final three are:

  • Indiana:  Multiple locations with Purdue University, Indiana Economic Development Corporation, and the State of Indiana listed as applicants
  • Kansas and Missouri: The Greater Kansas City Region with The Kansas City Area Development Council, and the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor listed as applicants.

The Triangle recently lost out on a new US Army headquarters as well as the Amazon HQ2 project and a new Apple campus. However Apple may still be considering the Triangle for a future project.

Site criteria

Listed as key considerations for the process were:

  • Quality of Life: Subcategory examples include Diversity Index, Residential Housing Costs, Access to Healthcare, and Home and Community Safety Ranking.
  • Costs (Capital and Operating): Subcategory examples include Commercial Real Estate Costs, CPI Index, and Wage Costs.
  • Workforce: Subcategory examples include Labor Force Growth Rate, Unemployment Rate, and the Labor Force Population.
  • Logistics / IT Infrastructure: Subcategory examples include Lodging Availability, Proximity to Customers, and Airport Accessibility.

The USDA received 136 “expressions of interest” in the projects from across 35 states.

“This short list of locations took into consideration critical factors required to uphold the important missions of ERS and NIFA. We also considered factors important to our employees, such as quality of life,” Perdue said.

“Relocation will help ensure 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. Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis.”

USDA announced its intention to make the moves in August 2018.

No ‘involuntary’ separations, USDA says

Most employees now based in Washington, D.C. will be moved, the USDA said. The process is expected to be finished by the end of this year, according to the announcement.

“No ERS or NIFA employees will be involuntarily separated,” the agency said in the August announcement. “Every employee who wants to continue working will have an opportunity to do so, although that will mean moving to a new location for most. Employees will be offered relocation assistance and will receive the same base pay as before, and the locality pay for the new location.”

The USDA cited three reasons for making the moves:

  • To improve USDA’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities. USDA has experienced significant turnover in these positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, DC area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes.
  • To place these important USDA resources closer to many of stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the Washington, DC area.
  • To benefit the American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.