Kansas, Missouri fight to keep Marine data center, jobs in Kansas City area

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 | 2:06 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Kansas and Missouri officials are working together to fend off New Orleans' effort to lure a Marine Corps data center and its 400 high-paying jobs away from Kansas City.

The congressional delegations and governors from both states have written to Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos, arguing to keep the center where it is. And Kansas City Mayor Sly James recently made a personal appeal in Washington to keep the information technology where it has been since 1967, rather than accept an offer to move it to a new federal complex in New Orleans.

"The fact is that there are other cities out there that are competing hard for this and other military and defense-related businesses," said James, a former Marine. "So we have opportunities, but we are in a competition."

The data center in south Kansas City pays an average of $90,000 a year to employees who run the system that pays Marines worldwide and handles other finance and personnel functions, The Kansas City Star reported. Area officials are anxious to retain the work because Kansas City has lost about 1,000 jobs to other cities in recent years because of military consolidations.

Most of the center's software developers and information technology professionals are not uniformed Marines but have ties to the Marines either through prior service or relatives. About 300 live in Missouri and 100 in Kansas.

James said he was encouraged by his meeting with the Marine Corps Commandant's office.

"They were complimentary of Kansas City, but there are clearly some things that they have to take into account with the budget and how that's affecting defense," James said.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was among those arguing for the center to stay in Kansas City.

"It is my belief in these times of austerity that the bi-state Kansas City metropolitan area offers the best home for the facility in terms of cost savings, regional expertise, amenities and community support," Brownback wrote in his letter to Amos.

The center is a prime target for New Orleans officials, who want to move it to a Federal City redevelopment project. Last month, the Marines dedicated a $166 million Marine Forces Reserve headquarters there in a 29-acre Marine Corps Support Facility compound. New Orleans hopes the complex will become a hub for private and government buildings.

"We have been a major military support city since World War II and we are continuing that," said Jacquelyn Clarkson, president of the New Orleans City Council. "We can offer them the best of military support, a state-of-the-art facility, and the city of New Orleans. I don't think it gets better than that."

The data center will stay in Kansas City until 2017, said Capt. Kendra Hardesty, with the public affairs division at Marine Corps headquarters in Washington. But a decision on a permanent facility is expected this summer or fall.

Employees in the Kansas City center hope it stays put, said Floyd Means, the local site director.

"If you've been here as a Marine Corps organization since 1967, a lot of people have a lot of ties to the local community," he said. "Obviously, we would like to keep those intact."

Means said the building, which the Marines lease from the General Services Administration, is in good condition and ideally suited for the data center to stay and expand.

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