Raleigh loses out on Army Futures Command center

In the end Raleigh didn’t pass muster. After months of lobbying and review, North Carolina leaders found out that it did not win the Army’s new Futures Command Center.

The headquarters, which will be home to about 500 uniformed and civilian staffers and headed by a four-star general, will instead go to Austin, Texas, Army leaders confirmed on Friday.

Though Raleigh, Austin and the other three finalist cities all “bent over backwards to help us,” Austin’s bid for the project “scored the highest” when it came to offering the service proximity to STEM workers, private-sector innovators, academia, quality of life and civic support, Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy said during a morning news conference.

Texas officials also offered incentives, and are “working through that now” when it comes to nailing down the details, he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

Friday’s news conference confirmed a decision that The News & Observer and other media organizations learned of late Thursday afternoon after the Army notified advocates for Raleigh, Boston, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, the cities that missed out.

Texas leaders were quick to celebrate when word of the decision emerged on Thursday. “We will now play a leading role in ensuring our national security,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, said in a statement.

In North Carolina, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. David Price, D-Chapel Hill, both said they were disappointed by the news.

“Over the last few months, North Carolina’s Congressional delegation and state leaders have worked together to submit our strongest proposal possible,” said Tillis, who helped orchestrate some of the key behind-the-scenes meetings that shaped the bid. “It is a testament to the strength of the Research Triangle’s business, academic, and military communities that Raleigh was considered in the final round after the Army received applications from major cities across the country.”

Price noted that “North Carolina is a growing hub of technological innovation as well as the home to the Army Research Office and one of the largest military populations in the country.” He added that he’ll “continue to advocate for robust federal investment in our state.”

The Futures Command headquarters has been assigned the task of ensuring the development of new missiles, cannons, tanks and aircraft for modern warfare.

Army leaders launched the search in the winter and from the start said they wanted to put the new headquarters in a city with good mix of academia and industry.

Service Secretary Mark Esper has said the Army wants scientists, engineers and theorists at its fingertips, and believes “you’re not going to get that at a traditional troop post.

The finalists — Raleigh, Austin, Boston, Minneapolis and Philadelphia — emerged from a search that initially looked at 30 cities. A “ground team” scouted each for office space before Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy and Futures Command task force chief Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley visited them for a last look.

A coalition of local, state, university and federal officials headed by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Gov. Roy Cooper spearheaded North Carolina’s recruiting effort, with a private group called the N.C. Military Foundation coordinating much of the work.

The Army initially announced on Thursday that Esper and other senior officials would brief reporters on the selection Friday morning. Shortly afterward, Cooper said North Carolina officials just “have to wait and see” if their recruiting would pay off. The bipartisan effort, he added, had “put our best foot forward.”

But the Triangle’s advantages, including a cluster of top-level universities, a strong tech sector, and proximity to a major Army base in Fort Bragg, weren’t unique.

Local officials acknowledged from the start that Austin — home of the University of Texas, a high-flying tech sector of its own and a relatively short drive away from Fort Hood — would offer stiff competition. Boston also shared many of the same advantages.

The Austin-American Statesman reported that the University of Texas system’s board planned to meet by telephone Friday afternoon to discuss leasing space in its own downtown headquarters to the U.S. government.

Army Futures Command formally started work on July 1 and is using temporary offices in Crystal City, Virginia, near the Pentagon. The Army was looking to lease office space and after renovations wants the headquarters space ready for occupancy summer.

Zachery Eanes contributed to this report.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg

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