Small town snippets: Outward migration, rural innovation

New census data indicated that more people are leaving the state rather than moving in. From April 2010 to July 2013, Kansas experienced an increase in overall population change, but a net loss of approximately 10,000 residents due to outward migration.

Innovative programs are being implemented in the educational system. Schools in Lyon County are taking learning outdoors to teach math and science and give students a more hands-on experience.

The central Kansas communities of Claflin and Ellinwood are coming together to help promote local events and attract more people to the area. Through the new joint venture, community leaders hope to bring more opportunities to the region.


Small towns provide opportunities for entrepreneurs

Baldwin City may be a small town, but that hasn't stopped this community from supporting unique businesses.

Baldwin City may be a small town, but that has not stopped this community from supporting unique businesses.

When soon-to-be college graduates begin their job search, rural communities typically are not the first place they look, but maybe they should be.

Many college students immediately look to the big cities as the land of opportunity. While larger communities may boast a greater variety of industries in which to find work, rural America could provide the chance for young entrepreneurs to create some of these same types of businesses.

For Mike Bosch, co-founder of Reflective Group in Baldwin City, he decided to start a business which would usually not be found in a small town. Reflective Group works on a variety of projects, including graphic design, app development, telephone service, tech support and video. Since its opening in 2011, Reflective Group employees have worked on a number of projects, including putting Wi-Fi in the underground salt mine in Hutchinson. While this was a challenging task, the “self-proclaimed geeks” at Reflective Group decided to tackle it anyway.

“That was a challenge that a small community brought to us and said, ‘this is what we’d love to have. This is the quote we got which we clearly can’t afford. Can you guys create something in between?'” Bosch said. “We said ‘sure, we’ll take a look at it.'”

Video Transcript

Reversing the rural brain drain
The rural brain drain has posed a problem for communities like Baldwin City. This concept refers to the migration of young people from their small communities to larger cities, according to an article from the Huffington Post. The brain drain has posed problems in Midwestern states like Kansas, but Bosch and Reflective Group are doing their part to reverse the rural brain drain.

“Ultimately if they don’t return home, what we’re left with is an aging population and we don’t get the new vibrancy that youth bring,” Bosch said. “Reflective Group being a technology geek shop essentially, that’s definitely something that the millennials, that 16-36 age group, really draws to. Being involved in an industry that attracts millennials really helps.”

Although small towns may not be the ideal destination for young people, small businesses, those which employ five or fewer, in both rural and urban areas do comprise roughly 80 percent of businesses in Kansas and create a large number of jobs, according to Will Katz, KU Small Business Development Center Director.

While Katz said he thinks being from the community in which you start a business could help with investment and a beginning client base, small communities are looking for new businesses to come in and will not turn away new faces.

Obstacles for small town entrepreneurs
Katz and the staff at the KU Small Business Development Center think small town businesses are worthwhile investments, but they also recognize the challenges associated with these areas.

“Are there really enough people in the small communities that will pay money for your product or service that you’re hoping to provide?” Katz asked. “It can be a challenge when the population is smaller.”

In his work with approximately 1500 young entrepreneurs, Katz said he has heard many reasons for wanting to start a small business. He said he wants to remind those looking to make it big that many small business owners will not take home the big bucks.

“People start businesses because they have a vision,” Katz said. “They see some service that isn’t provided or maybe they don’t think it’s provided at the standard they’d like to see it or they just think ‘I could do that a little bit better.'”

Bosch and Crawford both mentioned that small business owners wear a lot of hats, including the role of janitor. They said it is just part of the job.

Additionally, Bosch said the stigma associated with small towns is one obstacle his business has had to overcome.

“People who don’t live in small towns have images of Mayberry running through their mind,” Bosch said. “Here we are, a cutting edge software company, and a lot of times it takes them a second to say ‘they just happen to live in a small town, but these guys can do great work.’

“We do this because we’re good at what we do and we love being in small towns.”


Small town snippets: Changes in water, healthcare, Internet access

The USDA has taken on several programs dedicated to improving quality of life in rural areas. Now, the USDA Rural Utilities Service is working to improve water infrastructures in small communities across Kansas.

Rural health care may be harder to come by in the next five years, according to a group of primary care doctors in rural Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. The change is due in large part to recent and upcoming changes in health care regulations.

Sprint Nextel Corp. has joined the effort to expand internet access to rural areas. It is working with the Competitive Carriers Association and NetAmerica Alliance on a program which would allow carriers to use Sprint’s network in rural areas.

The Kansas PowerUp movement will be at the Capitol on Monday, April 1, to network with other PowerUps and meet with legislators. All Kansans who are ages 21-39 and rural by choice are able to attend.

Small town snippets: The rural divide

Add political affiliations to the list of differences between urban and rural America. Data has indicated that those in rural areas tend to favor a more Republican ideology while urban Americans lean toward the Democratic party.

Rural poverty continues to increase while rates in more urban areas decline. The reported rate for rural poverty was 17.8 percent in 2012 while the poverty rate among children in rural areas was higher.

The Neighbor to Neighbor Statewide Food Drive will continue next week as part of Kansas Agriculture Week. Donations collected will stay local to benefit struggling Kansans.

Big Rural Brainstorm creates a community of doers

Rural Kansas is making a comeback, but it will take a group effort. People from across the state gathered in Newton on Friday for the Big Rural Brainstorm.

The Big Rural Brainstorm aimed to connect those dedicated to rural life.  The resource wall allowed attendees to offer their services to other attendees.

The Big Rural Brainstorm aimed to connect those dedicated to rural life. The resource wall allowed attendees to offer their services to other attendees.

Attendees addressed a variety of issues facing rural communities including housing, entertainment, and tourism. The conference was intended to bring people together to create solutions for issues facing rural Kansas.

Kansas Sampler Foundation Executive Director Marci Penner played a large role in organizing the Big Rural Brainstorm and said that the conference is important in creating a network of Kansans who want to see positive change in rural communities.

“I think the people that are here are the doers,” Penner said. “In your town you might have people that are really negative so everybody here needs to be around positive people that believe.”

While PowerUps and PowerOns made up the majority of conference attendees, one high school student attended.

Cody Gettler has been involved in his community, serving as a city commission student representative and helping with the Cornstock festival. He said Anderson County does a good job of integrating students into their communities through community service.

“It’s a great way to encourage them to get involved with several organizations and get to know leaders in the community, which is one of the biggest things that will decide whether they come back or not,” Gettler said.

Big Rural Brainstorm attendees said they hope to take what they learned at the conference and implement the ideas in their own communities.

Friday live blog

To learn more about the issues facing rural communities in Kansas, follow along with my live-blog of the Big Rural Brainstorm this Friday, March 14. I will be reporting from Newton, Kan. throughout the day keeping you up-to-date on the conversations taking place about the future of rural Kansas.

To follow along, follow me on Twitter (@KaylaSchartz) and search #BRB2014 or check out my live Twitter feed on the right side of the Small Town, Kan. webpage.