Why Is Kansas City a Good Home for ERS?

ERS Move to KC- Analysis NEW
USDA is relocating its ERS and NIFA divisions to the Kansas City area, which gives the agency better access to 13 land-grant Universities. ( USDA )

The research division of USDA will soon call Kansas City its new home. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made the announcement this week, saying the department decided to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the Kansas City Region.

“Following a rigorous site selection process, the Kansas City Region provides a win-win–maximizing our mission function by putting taxpayer savings into programmatic outputs and providing affordability, easy commutes and extraordinary living for our employees,” said Secretary Perdue.

Bob Petersen, with the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City, said the agribusiness community is thrilled with USDA’s decision, one he thinks was based on the pool of future talent available near Kansas City.

“Within 300 miles of Kansas City, we have access to 13 different land-grant institutions,” said Petersen. “That's a wonderful array of talent that USDA will be able to draw from.”

Details regarding the timeline of ERS’s move to Kansas City are vague at this point, but Petersen said all signs point to an aggressive timeframe.

“They want to start moving fairly quickly,” he said. “Now, what the timeline is, I really don't know, but I'm told they want to begin moving a handful of people here as early as July, and so I'm sure it'll happen in stages over the next six months.”

So, where exactly could the agency call home? Petersen said nothing has been announced on that front, either.

“The details are vague,” said Petersen. “The Kansas City Area Development Council is doing a great job of showing USDA a number of options, but I'm led to believe they're probably six to eight alternatives, some on the Kansas side of the border, some on the Missouri side of the border. So those are decisions, I think that are yet to be made. They're trying to figure out what will be the best fit for them.”

Petersen said the agency is looking for a move-in ready building, instead of waiting on one to be built.

However, the announcement is coming with some heartache. ERS already losing a portion of its workforce from employees who don’t want to make the move. Just this week, a number of ERS employees stood during a press conference with their backs turned, saying Secretary Perdue turned his back on them.

Petersen said he understands the dilemma of moving family across the country, but wanted to offer some words of encouragement about an area, and community, those individuals will now call home.

“Number one is, I sympathize with these family changes; they're not easy to do,” said Petersen. “Many of us have been in that predicament at different points in our career. So number one, I understand it, but we're going to put out the welcome mat for you. You all are going to be a big deal in Kansas City. We're delighted to have you and your families coming. Understand that Kansas City has a great robust economy. We have a very strong and diverse agricultural agribusiness economy. So, for your spouses and family members who come along, we want to help them make connections as well.”

Petersen said he made the move from Washington D.C. to Kansas City nearly 20 years ago and can sympathize with those individuals faced with the same dilemma today. 

“I found when I moved to Kansas City from Washington, D.C. 20 years ago, what a wonderful quality of life,” he said. “Your housing dollar is going to be almost twice as far. All of a sudden, you're going to have a reasonable commute to the office at a reasonable price. And you can go to your kids’ ball games in the evenings. It's a nice thing.”

USDA said out of NIFA’s 315 positions, 294 will relocate while 21 will stay in the NCR. Of the 329 ERS positions, 253 will relocate while 76 will stay in the Washington, D.C. area.