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Nebraska still in the running for USDA office relocation
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Nebraska still in the running for USDA office relocation

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Nebraska remains in the running to become the new home for a pair of U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.

The USDA on Tuesday announced two sites in the Cornhusker State are among the 67 still vying to host offices for the Economic Research Service, as well as the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Nebraska Innovation Campus is the site of choice by a consortium of officials and state entities, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, the City of Lincoln, as well as the Nebraska departments of economic development and agriculture.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and Omaha Chamber of Commerce have also signed onto the proposal.

Ricketts called the research campus on the former State Fairgrounds "the best location for these programs because of the synergies they will find in ag-related research."

The University of Nebraska opened Innovation Campus, which has a focus on food, fuel and water, in 2015. When completed, it will include 250 acres of research labs, offices and other facilities.

UNL was on the fast-track for a $60 million USDA research center in 2010 to anchor Innovation Campus before Congress eliminated the use of earmarks in appropriations.

Chancellor Ronnie Green said locating a USDA program in Nebraska "just makes sense."

"We plan to work aggressively with our Nebraska partners to make Nebraska Innovation Campus the new home to one or both of these agencies," Green said in a statement.

Sen. Deb Fischer and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry also voiced their support for the consortium plan.

"As Nebraskans know well, our state is a leader in ag and business-related research and it's a wonderful place to live and work. All of these factors make Nebraska the perfect fit," Fischer said. "I'm pleased to see Nebraska advance in this process and lend my full support to bringing these agencies to The Good Life."

"Nebraska is well positioned to host these essential federal programs, given our ag history and long commitment to agricultural research and innovation," Fortenberry said. "I also believe that Nebraska has the values to superbly lead an innovative partnership for America's universities, other states, and farm programs."

A second proposal, this one a joint effort between private developers SPW Partners G and S and CBRE MEGA, would put the facilities in Omaha. A spokesman for commercial real estate firm CBRE MEGA declined to comment on the Omaha proposal.

The USDA said 136 entities submitted "expressions of interest." Both Nebraska sites were among the 67 to advance to the next round of consideration.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said the narrowed list was determined by seeing how each site matches up against the USDA's travel requirements, labor force statistics, and work hours most compatible with all USDA office schedules.

"Relocation will help ensure that USDA is the most effective, most efficient, and most customer-focused agency in the federal government," Perdue said, "allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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