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Rural Champions | Community Development

These counties identified that to be able to create a future for their residents and keep thriving communities, they needed programs to concentrate on and promote community development for programs in the long term. By establishing Community Development departments, they will have direct impact on success.

Graham County

Project Background

Recognizing the need for a single point of contact for regional and state economic development efforts, Graham County officials initiated the re-establishment of the Graham County Community Development (GCCD) Program, centered on entrepreneurship, with a focus on business retention/expansion and creating an entrepreneurial environment. The project aims to overcome capacity barriers, including the lack of assistance from the previous ED and the challenge of convincing individuals in a rural, conservative space of the value of community development positions.

Steps to Success

The establishment of the countywide development program, GCCD, achieved success evident in the commitment of funding from cities, community foundations and the county for 2024. With the Rural Champion serving as the GCCD Coordinator, the involvement of all communities in the county has been realized through various communication channels, and significant progress has been made with overwhelming support from business owners, citizens and public officials.

Solutions

The GCCD addressed communication gaps in Graham County, fostering collaboration through initiatives like the “13 Ways to Kill Your Community Book Club” and the formation of nine committees focusing on diverse aspects of community development. Overcoming initial resistance, the GCCD now receives support from the county, cities and volunteers, with the implementation grant targeting various goals to enhance county-wide promotion and engagement.

Meet the Rural Champion

Graham County Champion – Dan Steffen

The need for the re-establishment of the Graham County Community Development Program has been discussed for several years. Now, is the time to do so, as the County is in dire need of a “Point of Contact” for community development efforts. This project will focus on “Entrepreneurship” development for the County, focusing on Business Retention/Expansion and creating an entrepreneurial environment for both existing business expansion and new business startups. The scope of work to be completed in year 1 includes 11 goals. The impact of the re-establishment of a Graham County Community Development organization will greatly benefit the business community of the entire County, the overall population, as well as support and assist with entrepreneurial development in the County. In establishing this, a Champion to serve as single “point of contact” for the business community and citizens of the County in general is needed. This will improve communication with the citizens and business community of the County, as to opportunities and programs that may benefit them. The organization will also be a “One Stop” shop for entrepreneurs seeking to start a business and for existing businesses looking to expand and/or diversify. Assistance to the business community in the area of Workforce Development will also be a benefit to the business community. 

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Wallace County

Project Background

The goal of Wallace County’s Rural Champions Grant is to establish a lasting community development office, focusing on topics such as expanding the agricultural economy, increasing housing availability and addressing financial challenges in senior care. Recognizing the need for a point person to connect resources, provide state and regional contacts and instill hope and optimism, the Rural Champion aims to evaluate structures, funding avenues and long-term sustainability beyond the project’s 12 months.

Steps to Success

Wallace County’s Rural Champions project aims to create a lasting community development position with secured funding, focusing on economy, housing, and addressing challenges in senior care. Shifting from early ambitious ideas to a more positive approach, the project incentivizes property improvements and community engagement, involving a diverse committee that includes county commissioners, local organizations, businesses and property owners.

Solutions

In the past year, the county’s development efforts involved completing the Housing Assessment Tool, conducting a community housing survey, hosting a book club and initiating committees. Funding initiatives, such as the $15,000 incentive program for storefronts and signage, were well-received, and a cross-county mural project achieved success. The implementation grant will support ongoing community development through gap funding, mini grants business incentives, promotional mailers and more.

Meet the Rural Champion

Wallace County Champion – Lissa Sexson

The goal for Wallace County’s Rural Champions Grant is to establish and explore community development and the opportunities that can come from that office. For multiple years there has been organized conversation about creating a form of community development, to not only improve our space, but to also start diversifying and growing our economic base.  The Rural Champion will be the point person to work to create a community development office that would continue to exist beyond the twelve months of this project. The Rural Champion will evaluate topics what structure community development should take in Wallace County, and avenues for long-term funding, but also pressing issues such as expanding our agricultural economy, increasing available housing, and a financially distressed senior care center. 

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Key Resources

Partner Organizations
  1. Dane G. Hansen Foundation
  2. Northwest Innovation 
  3. NetWork Kansas
  4. County Commissioners
Funding Resources & Grants
  1. KS Dept. of Agriculture’s Ag Growth Initiative  
  2. ORP’s Rural Murals Grant  
  3. KS Dept. of Commerce’s Housing Assessment Tool  
  4. Office of Rural Prosperity  
  5. County  
  6. Visitors Bureau  
  7. Community Foundation  
  8. Dane G. Hansen Foundation  
  9. KS Dept. of Aging & Disability  
  10. Farm Credit of Western Kansas  
  11. Child Care Aware of Kansas  
  12. Patterson Family Foundation  
  13. Northwest Kansas Economic Innovation Center
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