Platte County could benefit from USDA move

I found myself recently with an interest in pork. I’m not talking about the barbecued type, which I love, or bacon at breakfast. Rather, I’m talking about political pork.

The news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is moving two key agencies employing more than 500 people, some as soon as September, made me think: “Hmmm, perhaps Platte County is the best place for them.” Then I wondered, what are the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)?

Bill Graham

Bill Graham

Ok, raise your hand, how many of you were familiar with these agencies and what they did before the move was announced by the Trump administration and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue? Perhaps if you write grant applications for agriculture research at universities, or you’re an expert in obscure acronyms, you regularly trade in the crop futures markets, or you’re a farmer who spends lots of time on a computer, you might have been familiar. The rest of us were asking who and what? Not many of us were asking why they should leave the Washington D.C. area.

As a longtime advocate for the Northland, I immediately thought about the Interstate 29 corridor. People conducting business with Washington and the nation’s business of raising food surely need to hop on a jet plane now and then. We offer them close access to the Kansas City International Airport. We are a middle point in America. We can prove it with the MCI (Mid-Continent International) luggage tags they put on our suitcases at KCI.

We’ve got plenty of upscale housing with more planned. Some mammoth developments are planned on the east side of I-29, not all that far from the airport. Or, those employees relocating can settle in at Weatherby Lake, Lake Waukomis or Houston Lake. Or they can commute from the big one, Smithville Lake just over the line in Clay County.

The Kansas City metro area benefitted from a cooperative Missouri-Kansas effort to beat out 136 other communities as a new location for ERS and NFIA offices. In a June 13 press release on the USDA website, federal officials noted that state and local governments had offered a “generous” $26 million relocation package. Details, including whether Platte County is a player, have not been revealed. Nor has it been announced which side of the state line, which county, or for that matter which specific municipality the offices will be located in. Apparently a bidding war is on.

“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,” Perdue said in the press release.

Who says American politicians can’t get along? The announcement has been praised and fiercely defended by all local Democrats and Republicans, both liberals and conservatives. Money talks loudly. Federal officials say the move will save taxpayer dollars and put ag experts closer to farms where they can get a little manure on their boots.

However, not everyone is thrilled. Unhappy career USDA employees for the agencies are expressing reasons such as roots in the Washington area. They have children established in schools, spouses with important jobs, extended family close by, familiar commutes, friendly neighborhoods and church participation. Maryland and Virginia leaders are noting their economic losses from the move.

Many in Congress from other states oppose the move and it might well be killed there. Some say the move is designed as a blow against sound climate science, since the Trump administration has opposed the idea of global warming. A skeptic might think the administration is throwing a bone to reliably red states ahead of an election year. Some critics have said costs associated with the move will outweigh savings from cheaper office rent. Many experienced, steadfast, expert government employees will not make the move.

For us, it felt good to be the chosen one in a way that made national news. The way the Royals are playing this summer, and since an offside penalty kept the Chiefs from the Super Bowl, Kansas City can use a win. I’d like to think Platte County is a sleeper for an office location if the agencies do come. The first Kansas City Star news stories only mentioned locations in Johnson County and in downtown KC. A follow up story did mention that a Northland building was among the locations offered.

The Kansas City metro will benefit by this move if it occurs. But if I honestly look at it, it’s hard to see proof that this benefits a broader America.

If ERS and NIFA employees do start moving into the neighborhood, I’ll shake their hands and welcome them with directions to the best barbecue. However, like after I’ve finished eating a pork/beef combo and fries (clean plate) served at Arthur Bryant’s BBQ, I’ll feel a bit guilty for questionable good fortune.