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.

Rural Opportunity Zones can get a FREE Webpage!

Some of you may have heard this before, but we want to make sure EVERYONE hears the news today. Rural Opportunity Zones – those 50 Kansas counties offering awesome “recruitment bonuses” to qualifying new residents – are eligible for an absolutely FREE Love Small Town America website*. This is no gimmick – the Kansas Department of Commerce is actually paying for scholarships that provide webpages to ROZ counties or communities within ROZ counties so that they can help leverage the nationwide interest in these fantastic Kansas counties.

Did you know?

More than 600 people have already applied for the ROZ incentives. The ROZ program is working. Imagine if all these counties had full-featured webpages with all the information new residents wanted to know in one, easy-to-navigate spot. That’s what Love Small Town America provides. ROZ counties can plug into a dynamic network that showcases what their communities has to offer and opens the door to affordable webpages for local businesses, free promotion, and more. Signing up is easy, it’s quick, it’s free. There’s no reason not to take advantage of this opportunity! Scholarship applications are due Feb. 6, 2013.

How Can you Take Advantage of this Offer?

If you live in a ROZ county or town – share this information with your local economic development director, chamber director, or other community leader and let them know you want to see your community on Love Small Town America. Even if your community already has a website, being a part of LSTA gets your community listed in a vibrant network of small towns across the country and provides free publicity for town events, businesses, and more.

If you’re a local economic development director, chamber director, or other community leader, you’re in the right place! Contact us today to learn more and to get help filling out your community’s scholarship application. Hurry – applications are due Feb. 6, 2013 and there are a limited number of scholarships available.

Contact Us:

Luke Mahin, Sales

Phone785-374-3067

Email: luke@lovesmalltownamerica.com

*Package C: $225 value

RedTire – Matching Businesses and Business Owners

RedTire is a new program from the KU School of Business that seeks to Redefine Retirement for business owners in rural Kansas communities.

At Love Small Town America, we consider ourselves matchmakers of a sort. We match businesses with employees via our job listings, we match potential citizens with new hometowns, and we match tourists with communities full of attractions that suit them to a tee. So, we were interested to learn of another matchmaking enterprise in our home state of Kansas.

When small town business owners age, they often shut the doors, taking with them the assets, experience, and wealth that business represented in the community. There are many reasons why this happens – but a lot of it comes down to basic economics – supply and demand. A new program called RedTire has been launched by the University of Kansas to offer one possible solution.

The RedTire program promotes their service as allowing business owners to redefine their retirement. The program matches rural business owners seeking an exit strategy with graduates from Kansas universities.

Candidates from both sides – businesses and potential successors – apply through the RedTire website or are referred to the program by third parties.

Ideally, the end result will be contract negotiations between successors and current owners to purchase existing businesses or make other arrangements to transition ownership.

The program is free and aims to help Kansas communities create transition opportunities to keep businesses alive and thriving. RedTire is new, so there aren’t any results to share, but there are an increasing number of attempts across the country to address this issue. We’ll be watching to see how RedTire progresses – so check back for an update!

We can’t help but think what an interesting complement this program – or something like it – provides for the Rural Opportunity Zone program. Theoretically, someone could move to a ROZ county, gaining access to tax credits and tuition reimbursement and possibly also create their own job by buying a business by engaging with RedTire – making the kinds of initiatives that are popping up across the state even more powerful. The future is taking shape before our eyes and there are definitely some interesting possibilities on the horizon.

What do you think? Is RedTire the kind of program that could make a difference?

Interested in applying?

RedTire Contact Information:

Wally Meyer
Lawrence, Kansas 66045
(785) 864-7583
wmeyerjr@ku.edu

Charlotte Tritch
Lawrence, Kansas 66045
(785) 864-7563
ctritch@ku.edu

ROZ Scholarship Applications Announced

You know how passionate we are about small town survival – and about the Rural Opportunity Zones program as a great way to recruit new residents to participating Kansas counties. That’s why we are so excited that the ROZ Scholarship Application is now open. We’ve been working with the Kansas Department of Commerce for some time now, and they agree that Love Small Town America gives small counties and towns the right kind of web presence. They have decided to offer scholarships to Kansas ROZ counties or towns within those counties to cover the cost of a 1-year membership on Love Small Town America. Can you believe that? Lucky ROZ applicants could receive a FREE webpage on LSTA as part of our network for a whole year. That is phenomenal!

This kind of support from state government is what makes us so proud to be from Kansas. We hope all the ROZ counties will feel the same and want to take advantage of the chance to join our network.

In the meantime, we put together a page on our site to help explain what the scholarship covers (and what it doesn’t), why you shouldn’t wait to turn in your application, and what the next steps are.

As always, we’re available to help, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

We’re so excited to realize that sometime this summer (fingers crossed) we’ll be joining a BUNCH of new communities to our growing family on the web. This means lots more exciting developments ahead, so watch our facebook page and twitter feed for the latest breaking news.

Links:

ROZ Webpage Scholarships

Joining Love Small Town America

Rural Opportunity Zones (KS Department of Commerce)

 

Rural Opportunity Zones

Rural Opportunity Zones are Kansas counties offering incentives for individuals to relocate, including tax breaks and student loan forgiveness. Interested in the ROZ website scholarship? Click here. 

The program was created by the Kansas Legislature and signed into law by Governor Sam Brownback in the summer of 2011. The incentives took effect beginning January 1, 2012 and are still going strong in the first quarter of 2014, attracting hundreds of applicants from across the nation.

We here at Love Small Town America have been enthusiastic supporters of this measure since its inception and we continue to partner with the ROZ to help participating Kansas counties share what they have to offer with the world. Soon, we hope to have many ROZ counties online here at LSTA, so you can compare side by side what small town schools, job opportunities, real estate listings, community events, and more each county has to offer and make an informed choice about which county would make the best new home.

Rural Opportunity Zone Counties on Love Small Town America

Rural Opportunity Zone Website Scholarship

From now until July 15, 2014 communities (towns and/or counties) that are participating in the ROZ program and have a population of 5,000 or fewer can apply for a free LSTA website. Learn more.

Size Qualification
ROZ counties with a total population of less than 5,000, or communities within an ROZ county with a population of less than 5,000 (regardless of county size) can apply for a website scholarship.

Can my city and county apply for an ROZ website scholarship? YES. Last year, for example, Hoxie and Sheridan County were both awarded ROZ website scholarships.

Rural Opportunity Zones Information
The Kansas Department of Commerce offers additional information about the Rural Opportunity Zones, including a clickable map. They also state the following about the ROZ:

There’s something special about life in rural Kansas. Something authentic and wholesome. Something that makes it the ideal place to live, work and raise a family. And thanks to the new Rural Opportunity Zones program, there’s never been a better time than now to make rural Kansas your new home.

Rural Opportunity Zones are 73 counties that have been authorized to offer one or both of the following financial incentives to new full-time residents:

  • Kansas income tax waivers for up to five years
  • Student loan repayments up to $15,000

To find out if you are eligible for the incentives or to explore the ROZ further, visit the Kansas Department of Commerce website now.

Rural Opportunity Zones – On the Blog
Read up on the Rural Opportunity Zones program through our blog:

Rural Opportunity Zones Website Scholarship
If you are a member of a ROZ, you may have found your way to our website through the ROZ website scholarship application. Welcome to Love Small Town America. As you can see, we believe in growing a bright future for small town America and we’re passionate about sharing the advantages of rural life with the world. It’s important to have a professional, comprehensive web presence to communicate your assets to your online audience; especially since you’re recruiting new residents! We’re happy to answer any of your questions about Love Small Town America as you prepare your scholarship application. Click here to learn more about the website scholarship and joining LSTA.

The scholarship covers:

  • A 1-year contract for creation and maintenance of a custom website on Love Small Town America for the applying community or county at our annual update package level (a $225 value).
  • If you would like additional updates or to add additional pages, we’re happy to provide a custom package for you. Any charges beyond $225 will not be covered by the scholarship.

Questions? E-mail us at info@lovesmalltownamerica.com

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Rural Opportunity Zone Incentives Take Effect January 1, 2012

Would you like to move to a small town? How would you like to move to a small town and pay no income tax for 5 years and get help paying off your student loans? Well, who wouldn’t want that?! If you live outside the state of Kansas and are dying to call a small Kansas town “home”, you may qualify to take advantage of an ingenious new incentive program that is luring people to the heartland.

Small towns in Kansas have taken the Rural Opportunity Zones program and run with it. This program is a creative way to help people take advantage of the benefits of small town living while giving rural counties in Kansas an incentive to attract young professionals and families and reverse the rural brain drain. The program benefits took action as of January 1, 2012.

From the Kansas Department of Commerce: On April 11, 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law the Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZs) program. ROZs are designed to reverse dramatic population declines over the past decade in rural areas of Kansas. The program is a central component of a broader plan by the Brownback Administration to spur economic development and expand job growth in 50 counties around the state. The program took effect July 1, 2011.

With two attractive incentives, moving to a small town just got a lot more enticing. A state income tax exemption applies to individuals moving to an ROZ from outside the state. Forty-four of the fifty participating counties are offering a student loan forgiveness program as well that could net participants up to $15,000 off of their outstanding college loans.

Kansas reported a slight increase in population for the year 2011. By December, more than 150 people had already applied for the ROZ program, so we may see that number continue to rise. Most of the people who leave Kansas move to Texas and the Governor links this out-migration with income taxes. The idea is that ROZs offer an opportunity for Kansas to compete with states that offer more aggressive tax situations.

Gove County, home of the LSTA headquarters in Grainfield (and LSTA towns Park and Quinter), opted in to the ROZ program at the end of December and we are very excited about welcoming some new residents to our wonderful communities to enjoy small town living! The decision to participate in the ROZ means that Gove County (and all the other ROZ counties) are choosing to embrace change and take brave steps to a brighter future. It’s not an easy step – but we think it is a good one.

We hope we see more of these kinds of incentives: programs that support small towns, bring growth to rural areas, and give people the chance to create their own opportunities.

For more information on the program or to apply to move to a Rural Opportunity Zone, visit the Kansas Department of Commerce website.

ROZs-designated counties are Barber, Chautauqua, Cheyenne, Clark, Cloud, Comanche, Decatur, Edwards, Elk, Gove, Graham, Greeley, Greenwood, Hamilton, Harper, Hodgeman, Jewell, Kearny, Kingman, Kiowa, Lane, Lincoln, Logan, Marion, Mitchell, Morton, Ness, Norton, Osborne, Pawnee, Phillips, Pratt, Rawlins, Republic, Rooks, Rush, Russell, Scott, Sheridan, Sherman, Smith, Stafford, Stanton, Trego, Thomas, Wallace, Washington, Wichita, Wilson and Woodson