Earl Pomeroy arrived at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center on Friday bearing money, food and bright prospects for the research facility's 98 employees.
U.S. Rep. Pomeroy, D-N.D., announced that the center has been approved for $10.5 million for the budget year by the congressional conference committee on agriculture spending. He celebrated by handing out red apples "because they're healthy and good to the core."
But the best news, Pomeroy said, is that the facility's future is secure with language in the bill.
"Your long journey out of uncertainty is now completed," he told workers in the lab's lobby.
In February 2008, the Bush Administration announced that it would close the center, moving its research to two other facilities. But it has kept operating through an earmark. Now, the bill specifies that research dollars go to Grand Forks.
"It's as tight as you can lock something down," Pomeroy said. "The lab is secure and it will have a vital mission."
More security comes from the lab refocusing its research into obesity, a major concern nationally but especially so in rural and Native American populations. The center is positioned well for that targeted research, director Gerald Combs said.
"Sexy gets funded before hum-drum in Congress," Pomeroy said. "Mineral research is vital but hum-drum. Obesity research is vital but also sexy."
Combs said the budget uncertainty damaged the ability to recruit researchers. As a sign that those days are over, he introduced three recently hired scientists at the gathering.
"We had a year that was a roller-coaster ride," he said. "We had a rattling of our tree. But in the end, it shook free some apples."
In more ways than one, as it turned out