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Kansans define rural prosperity

Aug 26, 2019

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Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s new Office of Rural Prosperity Listening Tour recently made its 12th and final stop for the summer in Dodge City. Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers kicked off the Aug. 7 public listening tour session at Boot Hill Casino and Resort Conference Center, where community residents from Dodge City and surrounding towns shared what prosperity means to them, what efforts have been successful in southwest Kansas and what improvements they believe are still needed.

The listening tour grew out of the state rural prosperity team’s desire to give agriculture, rural Kansas and small towns a seat at the table. Rural Kansans previously shared they felt Topeka just didn’t listen to them, and Rogers said he and the governor took that message to heart.

“What we’re doing there is making sure that we take into consideration with every policy and procedure that we do—and hopefully, laws that the legislature passes—how does it impact rural Kansas and small town Kansas?” Rogers said while addressing the Dodge City group.

Rogers traveled with Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Brad Loveless and other state staff to southwest Kansas as part of the tour. They visited Spearville and Jetmore and met with agricultural producers and community leaders in Dodge City before the public listening session.

“We’ve gotten a good flavor for what’s going on here,” Rogers said.

As his team has traveled around Kansas this summer, their focus was on “seven key elements that we thought were instrumental in making sure that rural Kansas had prosperity.” Those elements include:

1. Developing rural housing;

2. Revitalizing Main Street corridors;

3. Investing in rural infrastructure;

4. Supporting rural hospitals and medical professional recruitment;

5. Making state government work for rural Kansas;

6. Incentivizing active tourism; and

7. Supporting agribusiness.

What is rural prosperity?

After opening remarks from Rogers, listening session attendees split into groups to share what was happening in their communities. The groups answered the following questions:

  • What is prosperity? How do you define it?
  • What are we doing right in rural Kansas? What are the highlights?
  • What’s standing in your way? What could be done differently—locally, statewide, or nationwide?

After talking about their communities’ successes and challenges in breakout groups, participants shared the highlights of their discussions with the entire group and Rogers. Community members praised Garden City’s thriving Main Street and economic development, tourist initiatives in Dodge City, and the southwest Kansas area’s commitment to renewable energy.

One participant’s comments about the need for U.S. Highway 50 to be expanded to four lanes drew applause from the audience. Other areas of concern noted by community members were teacher and doctor shortages, the need for more affordable housing, a lack of minority leaders in the area to better reflect the population, and the need for a four-year university option in southwest Kansas.

Kali Barnett, a Garden City Democrat who recently announced her candidacy to challenge Rep. Roger Marshall for the Big First congressional seat, attended the Dodge City listening session. She reported her breakout group’s answers to the lieutenant governor’s questions, stressing the importance of education and childcare options to a rural community’s prosperity.

“Do we have early childhood education options for families so they can go to work and they have a place for childcare?” she said.

Next steps

A press release from the governor’s office stated Office of Rural Prosperity has been approved for a $2 million allocation in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

Feedback from all of the rural prosperity tours will be compiled, and the team will share those reports with the governor. They will also offer recommendations for action steps that state legislators can take.

Rogers urges interested Kansans who were unable to attend one of the listening tour sessions to visit and share their ideas about expanding opportunities in their rural communities.

Shauna Rumbaugh can be reached at 620-227-1805 or [email protected].

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