Small town snippets: Proposed rural solutions

Closures of post offices across the country have made headlines. In Dickinson County, 17 families have been without mail delivery since 2009. Geraldine Kohman, 75, has worked to make her voice heard but to little avail.

A primary topic of discussion at the recent Kansas Rural Opportunity Conference was the status of the state’s water supply. The drought has worsened the problem, which is now raising concerns in certain rural areas of the state.

The need for doctors in rural Kansas is becoming a key issue in the southern community of Arkansas City. Hospital officials are hoping to begin recruitment soon, but a lack of resources to draw potential doctors in could pose a problem.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to support rural business owners. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the creation of the Rural Business Investment Program on April 21.

An expansion of the Medicaid program in the state could help the economy, according to a Kansas Center for Economic Growth report. According to the report, rural hospitals and those looking for jobs could benefit if the expansion were approved.


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: Possible changes for rural Kansas

A program offering incentives to attract new residents to Kansas could soon expand to include more counties. The Rural Opportunity Zone program currently includes 73 counties but would grow to 77 counties if House Bill 2417 continues to advance. The House voted to advance the bill on Thursday.

Rural hospitals could see a restriction change through the Critical Access Hospital Relief Act of 2014. If passed, the bill would eliminate the Medicare rule that patients be present at a rural hospital no longer than 96 hours in order for it to receive reimbursement.

New research suggests that small businesses in rural communities are facing financial difficulties. With banks relocating to urban areas, rural business owners can no longer rely on banks to issue credit based on the owner’s reputation.

Small town snippets: Rural communities garner attention

Rural healthcare has not been a priority in past years and a recent study has shown that those residing in rural areas have shorter life expectancies than those living in large cities. However, a program in Arizona is working to funnel more medical professionals to rural communities.

Experts from around the country converged at the University of Kansas on Friday to discuss the future of rural communities. The preservation of natural resources was a primary topic of discussion at the symposium.

Funding from the USDA helped in the creation and completion of a variety of projects in rural Kansas in 2013. The state received more than $413 million which was used to improve water quality and help small businesses, among other projects.

[Bonus] A recent article from the Kansas City Star put the spotlight on the quality of service provided by small town businesses. Author Cindy Hoedel shared her appreciation for small town businesses that go the extra mile for their customers.