Small town population: The story behind the numbers

73 Kansas counties participate in the Rural Opportunity Zones program.

73 Kansas counties participate in the Rural Opportunity Zones program.

Small communities are often worried about population. According to a Carsey Institute report, rural America contains 75% of the country’s land and 17% of its population. Understanding shifts in population and 21st century opportunities in rural America are important for everyone.

Stereotypes abound about small town, rural America. Stereotypes like backwards towns, where everyone wears overalls and drives a tractor. Stereotypes like isolated ghost towns. Stereotypes like a dead end road of limited opportunities.

In reality, only 6% of rural residents are employed in agriculture. In reality, many small towns are meccas for new types of industries, or at least, new-to-them industries. In reality, many small towns are becoming tourist destinations, research centers, or tranquil homes for telecommuters.

Population numbers mean a lot to small communities. Population means workers filling jobs, families purchasing homes, and children filling schools. Population means a tax base, voter base, and volunteer pool. Population means friends and neighbors and a vibrant existence.

The Rural Opportunity Zones program is one way Kansas is turning the tide of out-migration. Young people in their 20s are predominantly the demographic moving out of rural America. The ROZ program extends a tempting offer – move to certain Kansas counties and start life fresh, without the monkey of student loan debt on your back and with enticing income tax offers. Start your life where your community appreciates you, where your presence is vital, where you can fill an important role.

Since the program’s launch in 2012, 1,450 people have applied to move to ROZ counties. Many of these people have spouses and families. Maybe 1,450 seems like a huge number to you; maybe it seems small. But, in a town like our headquarters of Grainfield, population 277, even one new family makes a difference.

If one new family moved to every small town in the country, how would that change the landscape of rural America? It’s an exciting thought. Maybe one town would get a doctor, or another would find the perfect volunteer to run the school carnival, or to restore a beautiful Victorian home. Every person moving to rural America makes a difference. That’s why we’re so excited to support a program that has thousands of people interested in moving to rural Kansas.

Currently, we’re proud to call 6 of the 73 counties participating in the Kansas ROZ program LSTA members. Hopefully, this number will continue to grow! Our 2014 ROZ Website Scholarship is accepting applications until May 1, 2014. Learn more here.