Several Iowa communities, along with cities in 35 states around the United States, have expressed interest in becoming the new home of two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) divisions that the department plans to soon relocate out of the Washington, D.C., area.

Five Iowa communities — Ames, Ankeny, Council Bluffs, Des Moines and West Des Moines — have submitted proposals to host the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Davenport and Bettendorf are also included in a proposal submitted by the Quad Cities.

The USDA says it plans to move the two divisions, which account for some 600 or so employees, for three primary reasons. First, the department wants to place resources closer to farmers and others who use the economic analysis and other services of the two divisions. Second, the USDA says moving the offices out of the Washington, D.C., area would create significant savings for taxpayers. Finally, the department says a move would improve its ability to attract and retain highly qualified people who are interested and are trained in ag-related fields.

The USDA’s criteria fit very well with Iowa’s attributes, according to Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig and Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

“Doesn’t it just make a lot of sense for ERS and NIFA to be located in a state in the heartland like Iowa?” Naig asked. “When you look at our ag history, our farmers’ productivity and our innovation, it just works.”

Tapping talent pipeline
Durham said locating the divisions in Iowa would allow the USDA to tap into the strong pipeline of agriculture researchers being trained at Iowa State University and other colleges in the state. “And of course, the quality of life and cost of living are very much in our favor," she said.

The USDA, Naig added, already has a large presence in the state with large facilities, such as the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, and there are many Iowa-based researchers who collaborate with counterparts at the USDA.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley agreed that moving the agencies out of the Washington, D.C., area and to Iowa would make sense. “Anything that we can move out of Washington that would not affect the efficiency of our federal government is beneficial, as far as I’m concerned," he said.

Land grant connections
The best place for ERS and NIFA, Grassley said, would likely be near a land-grant university, Grassley said. “And of course, I’m partial to Iowa State University.”

The USDA last week said it had received 136 expressions of interest from entities in 35 states.

The department intends to select the new location, or locations, by January 2019.