Six locations in Northeast Ohio are among 67 still being considered to become the potential new homes of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently announced 67 locations remain from the initial 136 "expressions of interest" received from parties in 35 states. The two agencies combined employ more than 600 persons and are now located in the Washington, D.C. area.

The local entities still in contention for the sites are Twinsburg and Akron in Summit County, Streetsboro and Brimfield in Portage County and Middlefield and the Geauga County Department of Development.

However, if passed, a bill called the Agriculture Research Integrity Act of 2019 would prevent relocation of the agencies, which more than 1,000 scientists have opposed because they believe it would threaten scientific integrity at the department.

Streetsboro Mayor Glenn Broska said he’d be glad to welcome the USDA, but added it’s a little early in the process to get too excited. "We’ll put our best foot forward to get it," he said.

Twinsburg Director of Planning and Community Development Larry Finch said the city has proposed locating the two agencies on 17 acres at Cornerstone Business Park. "What we’re offering would accommodate their needs," he noted.

"This area has a lot to offer when it comes to quality of life. We have a good workforce, and it is much cheaper to live here than in D.C. and some other areas.

"I’m hopeful that the USDA would choose us, but I’m not terribly confident. The agency might favor an area more in the center of the Corn Belt."

Brimfield Township Trustee Mike Kostensky said he doesn’t know a great deal about the plan yet and wonders whether it would be in the Kent or Tallmadge Joint Economic Development District.

"We’re thrilled. We would love it," he said. "We’re excited about it but can’t get too excited because there are a lot of good towns and cities on the list.

The Economic Research Service is responsible for providing research and analysis to USDA and other federal agencies, as well as the White House and Congress, on topics such as food security and safety, agricultural economy and natural resources.

Perdue’s plan also calls for ERS to be moved from the Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics to the Office of the Chief Economist, which directly advises Perdue on the economic impact of USDA policies.

The USDA said it will need about a 90,000-square-foot facility to house NIFA’s 360 employees and up to 70,000 square feet to house ERS’s 260 employees. Appropriations will dictate the ultimate size of the facilities.

According to a press release, USDA is following a rigorous site selection process to identify the new locations, with involvement from USDA, ERS and NIFA leadership.

According to U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce’s office, the USDA will conduct a further refinement of the remaining candidates and announce a short list in April.

At that point, the USDA expects to conduct site visits to a select number of locations and hopes to name a final location for ERS and NIFA the following month.

"The announcement of this middle list shows that we are committed to the important missions of these agencies and transparency in our selection process," said Perdue. "USDA will make the best choice for our employees and customers.

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

Said Joyce, "Moving these USDA agencies out of Washington and into Northeast Ohio would result in better customer service, save taxpayer dollars and give an economic boost to our communities.

"That’s why I’ve supported those in our region who have submitted proposals for this opportunity, and will continue to do so throughout the selection process.

"Agriculture is Ohio’s No. 1 industry, and I’m hopeful the Buckeye State can continue to build on its critical role in America’s agricultural industry by becoming the new home to these two USDA branches."

Reporter Bob Gaetjens contributed to this article.