Politics & Government

The Triangle is a finalist for USDA office relocation, which could bring 700 jobs

The Triangle is one of the final contenders to land two offices from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — a relocation that could net the area around 700 jobs.

The USDA said last Friday that the “Research Triangle” region was one of the final three contenders to land the offices — the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The other two contenders are Indiana and the greater Kansas City, Mo., region.

The applicants for the Triangle are Wake County, Durham County and Research Triangle Park, according to the USDA release. The Indiana bid is backed by Purdue University, while local Kansas City economic groups back the Missouri bid.

The USDA said it hopes to relocate those two organizations by the end of 2019.

The process doesn’t appear too dissimilar to Raleigh’s attempt to land the new U.S. Army Futures Command Center, an Army headquarters assigned with the development of new missiles, cannons, tanks and aircraft for modern warfare. That would’ve brought about 500 staffers, but Raleigh narrowly lost out to Austin, Texas, for the expansion.

North Carolina put incentives on the table, specifically an offer of three years’ worth of free rent for office space on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, in its unsuccessful bid for the Army office. It’s unclear at the moment whether incentives will play a part in the USDA relocation.

The N.C. Department of Commerce, which helps run economic recruitment in the state, declined to comment on the USDA relocation Wednesday. “We’re unable to comment on active projects,” Commerce spokeswoman Beth Gargan said in an email.

Similarly, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which works with Commerce, declined to discuss the subject further.

“While the USDA announcement is certainly very welcome news, and attests to the many strengths of the Research Triangle region ... the EDPNC doesn’t generally comment on any pending projects we may be working on, due to the highly competitive nature of economic development projects,” said Mary Wilson, a spokeswoman for EDPNC.

Michael Haley, executive director of Wake County County Economic Development, said the region’s research infrastructure and talent puts the Triangle in a good position to win the relocation.

“We are very excited that the region has been named a finalist and feel the Research Triangle region is well positioned for this,” Haley said in an email. “The high caliber talent, innovation ecosystem and educational and research infrastructure of the region align well to the needs of the USDA.”

Around 136 locations across 35 states expressed interest in the USDA offices, when the original request for qualification was put out by the USDA.

“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,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, said in a statement. “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.”

The Economic Research Service’s mission is to provide research and data that is used to shape decision making on economic and policy issues related to agriculture and food.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides grant and funds research efforts across the country meant to make agriculture in the U.S. more productive and sustainable.

The potential move has apparently roiled many economists that work at the Economic Research Service, the website Politico reported this week. The Politico report noted that “non-retirement departures” from the organization have more than doubled so far this year and that six economists left in April “out of frustration with the relocation process,” according to unnamed co-workers at the organization.

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.