When first announced last August, the proposal to relocate departments within the U.S. Department of Agriculture out of Washington, D.C., opened a floodgate of reaction. The idea of moving a part of the federal government out of the D.C. beltway caused uproar among some in Washington — as well as praise from many of the millions of Americans who work in the field of agriculture in the remaining 99.9 percent of our country.
For U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the concept is simple: Move those who serve in a research arm of agriculture near the farmers for whom they serve. We live in a global agricultural and economic society, but proximity ensures that resources are never far from the farmers, growers, farm supply and university researchers who can provide real-time feedback in the policymaking process.
After accepting 136 proposals from 35 states, the USDA has selected Indiana as one of the three finalists for their new research facility.
As the “Crossroads of America,” Indiana is one of the top agriculture producing states in the country. The industry contributes an estimated $31.2 billion to the state’s economy each year, with 56,800 farming operations averaging a farm size of 259 acres. Ninety-seven percent of farms are family-owned or operated.
The Hoosier State is also home to the 150-year-old land-grant Purdue University, with its nationally and internationally ranked College of Agriculture. Purdue boasts three World Food Prize laureates on its faculty, is the No. 1 agriculture and biological engineering program in the country, and houses some of the most advanced phenotyping facilities in the country.
As a state, Indiana has made unparalleled investments in infrastructure, elevating economic competitiveness and quality of life. The Indianapolis International Airport, with direct flights to Washington, D.C., has been named the top airport in North America for seven straight years.
As we come to a final decision about where the USDA’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture departments should relocate, USDA should consider a location that has access to America’s best research institutions so that they can draw on pre-existing expertise, as well as a location that facilitates a lower cost-of-living than in Washington, saving American taxpayers money in salaries and operating costs.
It’s a great time to move to the Midwest, and especially to Indiana. This month, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics announced that Tippecanoe County, home of Purdue University, is No. 1 in the country for the largest year-over-year weekly wage growth. The area also has been recognized as a “Best Place to Live” by Forbes Magazine.
USDA employees will be pleased with the affordable living costs and one percent capped residential property taxes. According to C2ER’ s Cost of Living Index, a person earning $100,000 in Washington, D.C., would only need to earn $60,253 in Indiana to enjoy the same level of living. Additionally, Hoosiers spend 46 fewer hours per year in traffic congestion than in Washington D.C., per INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard. Indiana has spent years adopting sound fiscal policies, and today is one of only a handful of U.S. states with a AAA credit rating and an annual budget surplus.
We urge the USDA officials to strongly consider Indiana through this effort. Selecting our region would represent an important strategic move to put the agricultural researchers next to our farmers and that is a good thing for them and our country.
U.S. Sen. Braun, R-Indiana,serves on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee. U.S. Rep. Baird, R-4th District, serves on the House Agriculture Committee.