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Commerce Department Launches Rural by Choice Champions Program

Aug 10, 2022

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TOPEKA – Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland today announced a unique opportunity for rural communities throughout the state – the Rural by Choice Champions Program (Rural Champions). This one-year pilot program will create a network of grassroots individuals who will tackle critical community projects and identified needs integral for rural prosperity. Rural Champions, which was made possible through a collaboration with the Patterson Family Foundation, will help drive success when there is a lack of capital or other resources to complete the project.

“We are continually looking at ways to keep and attract individuals that want to live and work in our rural communities throughout the state,” said Lt. Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland. “Through this program and other initiatives, such as our Grassroots Economic Development Program and Rural Opportunity Zones, we are focusing on removing barriers to success in rural Kansas.”

In 2021, Commerce’s Office of Rural Prosperity (ORP), in partnership with the Kansas Sampler Foundation, outlined the recommendation for Rural Champions in its Power Up and Go report, an effort begun by former Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers prior to his appointment as State Treasurer. The need for the Rural Champions program was identified through surveys and interviews of more than 600 rural Kansans under the age of 40 as something that would “move the needle” toward success.

In order to apply, communities describe current activities, challenges that are stifling progress and how a Rural Champion would benefit advancement. Twelve communities will be selected for the pilot program and will receive a stipend for wages for the Rural Champion. Projects could include anything that the community designates as critically needed, including, but not limited to:

  • a new childcare facility or rehabilitating a building to support a childcare center;
  • health and wellness projects such as a trail system or shared bike program;
  • rehabilitation or construction of new housing units; or
  • entrepreneurship development.

Eligible applicants, which must be located in counties with less than 40,000 population, include:

  • Cities or Counties;
  • Economic/Community Development Organizations;
  • Community Foundations;
  • Local Chambers of Commerce or Tourism groups;
  • Nonprofit organizations including 501(c)3 or 501(c)6;
  • Main Street organizations or affiliates; or
  • Federally recognized tribal communities.

“The program was designed to help revitalize rural communities,” said Trisha Purdon, Director Office of Rural Prosperity. “The Rural Champions will play an integral part in identifying projects – and then making them happen. Every community is unique, and this program provides the flexibility to develop a project that fits their goals.”

Rural Champions will receive direct guidance and technical assistance from the Office of Rural Prosperity to ensure project success. The Office of Rural Prosperity will assist with the development of a rural community playbook to share with other communities for future projects.

Applications will be accepted until 5:00 p.m. Friday, September 16. An informational webinar will be held at 10:00 a.m. Thursday, August 18. For more information and to register for the webinar, visit our website at https://www.kansascommerce.gov/orp/ruralchampions/. Rural Champions will be announced in late September and will have one year to complete their projects. 

Questions can be directed to Kerri Falletti at kerri.falletti@ks.gov or 785-207-5206.

About the Kansas Department of Commerce:

As the state’s lead economic development agency, the Kansas Department of Commerce strives to empower individuals, businesses and communities to achieve prosperity in Kansas. Commerce accomplishes its mission by developing relationships with corporations, site location consultants and stakeholders in Kansas, the nation and world. Our strong partnerships allow us to help create an environment for existing Kansas businesses to grow and foster an innovative, competitive landscape for new businesses. Through Commerce’s project successes, Kansas was awarded Area Development Magazine’s prestigious Gold Shovel award in 2021 and 2022, and was awarded the 2021 Governor’s Cup by Site Selection Magazine.

About the Patterson Family Foundation:

Where you come from says a lot about you. But what you do says even more. The Patterson Family Foundation is a family-led foundation extending the legacy of Neal and Jeanne Patterson to improve the rural communities we come from through healthcare, education, economic opportunity, and beyond. Learn more about the Patterson Family Foundation and how it can help your community at https://pattersonfamilyfoundation.org