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← Kansas offers incentives to lure people back to the plains

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Showing Revision 6 created 03/26/2014 by Mamarac.

  1. Travelling this stretch of highway 36 in rural
  2. Northwest Kansas in the dead of winter, it's very quiet.
  3. This is the road that leads to the town of Phillipsburg.
  4. The population just over 2,500.
  5. There's only one set of stop lights, one movie theatre, and several restaurants.
  6. Amber and Patrick Patterson grew up here.
  7. "I mean, everyone knows everybody.
  8. You know, everybody helps out everybody. It's nice."
  9. The Pattersons were highschool sweethearts
  10. and they went to college in Hays Kansas.
  11. A city of about 20,000 people an hour away.
  12. Like most young people from around here
  13. they didn't think they'd be back
  14. given the lack of opportunities.
  15. "I'd say the job market is probably one of the things
  16. that made it the hardest to come back
  17. because a lot of the jobs around here are set
  18. people have been doing their job for a long time.
  19. We didn't think there'd be any available to come back."
  20. In fact jobs and people have
  21. been disappearing from rural Kansas
  22. and most of the Great Plains for
  23. the last 80 years.
  24. It started during the 1930's during
  25. the Dust Bowl and accelerated with
  26. the mechanization of farming the 1960's.
  27. Fewer workers were needed than ever before
  28. in farming and other industries.
  29. "I've been around rural Kansas all my life.
  30. Was raised in rural Kansas.
  31. I've seen a decline for 50 years."
  32. Sam Brownback is the republican governor of Kansas.
  33. He vowed to take action after the most
  34. recent census, in which most counties
  35. reported a loss to their population.
  36. Brownback's idea was to create something
  37. like a new homestead act.
  38. Much like the one that lured people
  39. to these rural areas in the late 19th
  40. century with the promise of free land.
  41. "I think there's something worth preserving.
  42. It's about knowing the person that
  43. grows the food that your eating.
  44. It's about forming a community.
  45. Well we already have that.
  46. It's Phillipsburg Kansas. It's Parker Kansas.
  47. You know not only the person, you know their
  48. parents and maybe their grandparents.
  49. Why destroy it? This is a beautiful community.
  50. We just need to give it some economic activity."
  51. His idea was to create what are called
  52. "rural opportunity zones" and in 2011
  53. the state legislature overwhelmingly approved the plan.
  54. The ROZ program works like this,
  55. If you're a college grad with student loan debt, you
  56. can get up to $15,000 over 5 years just to move
  57. to a designated rural county in Kansas
  58. that's experienced a loss in population.
  59. Those comming from outside of Kansas won't
  60. pay state income taxes.
  61. "There's an old western saying that if you'll wear out a pair of
  62. boots living here, you'll live here the rest of your life.
  63. In about 5 years you'd wear out a pair of boots,
  64. and I think we're going to have a great chance
  65. of getting people.
  66. And not only getting people. I think we'll have
  67. people comming home that have wanted to
  68. come back for some period of time."
  69. The help with their student loans is what brought
  70. the Pattersons back to Phillipsburg in 2012.
  71. Between the two of them they owed $46,000 after
  72. graduating from Fort Hays State University.
  73. "Without ROZ I honestly don't know if we would
  74. be here, because we were questioning it so much
  75. on whether we could make it work.
  76. But with our student loan payments,and rent payments, and..."
  77. "Yeah we felt like it was a gamble, you know to come
  78. back without it."
  79. "ROZ made it that much easier."
  80. Patrick started off working odd jobs.
  81. Until he landed a position at a credit union,
  82. and Amber found work in customer relations
  83. at a pharmacy in town.
  84. The state and participating counties split the cost of student
  85. loan reimbursement for people like the Pattersons.
  86. Last year the total cost of the ROZ program was $838,000
  87. "You've built a reputation as a conservative
  88. republican both in the senate and now as governor.
  89. So you're not known, exactly, for big goverment programs.
  90. Doesn't something like this fly in the face of
  91. the principles that you espouse?"
  92. "I'm a growth guy, and it's about creating opportunites
  93. for people, and they may decide to take them they may not.
  94. But it's about growth and creating those opportunities.
  95. That to me is very consistent with what i've tried to be about."
  96. But the governor admits that the plan is a gamble.
  97. There's no guarantee or requirement that people
  98. taking advantage of the ROZ program will
  99. stay in these rural parts.
  100. Take 27 year old Kellen Adams. He moved to the
  101. small town of Logan in Phillips county seven months
  102. ago from a bigger city in Kansas.
  103. Adams lives here with his girlfriend.
  104. He's reciving $3,000 a year for the next 5
  105. years from the state and county.
  106. But he told us even before he applied to the ROZ
  107. program he had accepted a job as principal of the town's
  108. only school, but ultimately he doesn't see
  109. himself staying here.
  110. "The reason why is I don't want to take my current
  111. superintendents job. He and I have kind of agreed
  112. it would probably be in our best interests if I
  113. pursue another position elsewhere."
  114. "So the opportunities are limited here?" "They are."
  115. Adams says he plans on moving elsewhere in Kansas.
  116. But others may leave the state.
  117. "You're offering people, you know, up to $15,000 to
  118. help them with their student debt.
  119. What if these people come into these areas and
  120. they're like "Oh, great opportunity, I was going to move
  121. here anyway, but let me just take advantage of this
  122. and then I'll leave the state."?"
  123. "You could have some of that taking place, and there
  124. proabably will be some of it.
  125. You could see where we were and say
  126. "Alright we can choose to do nothing."
  127. That's a legitamate policy choice.
  128. And we were 28th most populous sate in America in the 70's and
  129. we're 33rd now, headed to 35th if we don't break the trend line.
  130. But I don't know any team or business that hires a
  131. coach or a leader to manage slower decline.
  132. Just manage the decline comfortably.
  133. You bring them in to change things."
  134. So far more than 650 people are enrolled in the
  135. program, 36 of whom are living in Phillips county.
  136. Which includes the towns of Phillipsburg and Logan.
  137. But some question the long term impact of an
  138. initiative like this.
  139. "My assesments would be that this may help a few
  140. people or a few communities in a very small way,
  141. but then it will not turn back the population."
  142. Laszlo Kulcsar is a sociologist at Kansas State
  143. University who specializes in rural population trends.
  144. He says he doubts that young people will move to
  145. rural counties in large numbers because jobs are
  146. scarce, and because these areas lack conveniences
  147. that can be found in larger towns.
  148. He showed me the projections for Phillips county.
  149. "The population has been going down since the 1900
  150. census, but according to the projections of the census
  151. bureau to 2030 we are going to see
  152. the same population decline."
  153. "When you speak to people who are involved in this
  154. initiative they say, you know
  155. "We've had people move back here. They're putting
  156. down roots. They're starting families. They're
  157. opening buisness here and there."
  158. I mean isn't that worth something?"
  159. "It is worth something. It is very important for a place
  160. to show some sign of vitality.
  161. So they're pleased to show others that this is not
  162. a place that's going to go away anytime soon.
  163. And really it does not work as much for others who
  164. may move there. But it does work on people who are
  165. thinking of moving away. So in that sense that
  166. may help retain the population that is still there."
  167. For Kellen Adams his desision to eventually leave is
  168. based squarely on where the jobs are.
  169. "It has nothing to do with Logan, or the school or
  170. anything else, but I am looking for a position,
  171. you know, that would be obviously in the best
  172. interests of my family.
  173. And I have pretty big dreams and goals and so, I want
  174. to be able to achieve those."
  175. The Pattersons on the other hand have long
  176. term plans to stay put.
  177. The sucess of the ROZ program will likely hinge on bringing more people like them to rural Kansas.