In October, Lissa Sexson was hired by the County of Wallace to serve as the Rural Champion, or point-person, to move forward efforts of Community Development within the county. Prior to being awarded the Rural Champion grant, Wallace County had not had any official form of community or economic development in close to 15 years.
Some areas of emphasis for the Rural Champion project were defined broadly as: housing, the economy, and establishing a sustainable structure to move Wallace County Community Development forward with after the Rural Champion stipend. With broad support throughout the county, much work has been initiated and gaining momentum.
One of the first projects Lissa participated with was Rural Mural grant through the Office of Rural Prosperity. This grant was able to help make 3 beautiful murals happen throughout the county and Lissa was the artist of one of the murals that were completed.
Focusing on the primarily agricultural economy of Wallace County, community development has hosted Russell Plaschka with the Kansas Department of Ag for a community conversation focused on ag growth. Additionally, a second, follow up community informational meeting was also had with Plaschka which included Sammy Gleason with the state trademark program, From the Land of Kansas.
Christy Preston with Network Kansas was able to speak with County Commissioners regarding their programing and opportunities that come from being an E-Community. Wallace County Community Development plans to apply for E-Community status prior to the April 4th deadline.
In addition to looking broadly at future economic potential, there has also been a push by Wallace County Community Development to maintain and enhance current businesses through a Storefront and Signage Incentive Program. Between funding from the county, the Wallace County Foundation, and cash-match from award recipients, the Incentive Program could provide $30,000+ worth of visual updates to Wallace County businesses.
Looking at housing, Wallace County Community Development has been working through the Housing Assessment Tool (HAT) with a volunteer advisory committee. This is a self-assessment process that thoroughly gathers local and regional housing data, as well as also considers local input from the community.
Wallace County Community Development is also working through establishing and funding a set of Housing Incentives identified as priorities, including demo of dilapidated properties, spur redevelopment, encourage painting, motivate the sale of vacant homes, and more.
Establishing a brand for Wallace County Community Development and creating lines of communication has also been part of the Rural Champion project. Currently a quarterly newsletter is released, an email contact list is expanding, and there is an effort to be active on social media.
Wallace County Community Development has also laid the groundwork for a community book club starting in March featuring “13 Ways to Kill Your Community”. Each discussion will then be led by a community organization, including the Wallace County Foundation, Wallace County Chamber of Commerce, and Wallace County Visitors Bureau.
To learn more about this and the 11 additional Rural Champion pilot projects, visit https://www.kansascommerce.gov/orp/ruralchampions/.