Most Innovative Place in the US
After generations of disinvestment, rural America might be the most innovative place in the U.S.
Rural leaders, governments, and philanthropic funders who aren’t afraid to break with long-standing assumptions about the inevitability of rural decline can leverage the potential, talent, and innovative spirit of rural America to build the new Heartland.
Stop trying to save Rural America.
Efforts to write it off as “disappearing” are complicated by the 60 million Americans who call a rural community home.
We must recognize that innovation, diversity of ideas and people, and new concepts don’t need to be imported to rural communities – they’re already there. Rural entrepreneurs and community leaders have always, by necessity, been innovative.
Rural communities have faced some harsh realities in the last generation: they’ve seen manufacturing move overseas, farming monopolized by big outfits with only 5% of rural residents working in agriculture, generational migration to bigger cities, school consolidation, and the absence of basic community resources such as health care and broadband, and, more recently, threats to the lifeline that is the U.S. Postal Service. This, and the pandemic.
COVID-19 has not just exposed the challenges faced in rural America; it has made plain that there is no longer comfort in believing there is time to find eventual solutions. Rural leaders, entrepreneurs, and communities must now move with urgency to implement the solutions they have long understood to be necessary: Rebuild critical systems pushed to their limits through years of under-investment.
Innovation, diversity of ideas and people, and new concepts don’t need to be imported to rural communities – they’re already there. Rural entrepreneurs and community leaders have always, by necessity, been innovative.
This is an opportunity for rural leaders, governments, and philanthropic funders who aren’t afraid to break with long-standing assumptions about the inevitability of rural decline. The challenges that existed before COVID-19 are highly visible in times of emergency. They will continue after the pandemic, but for how long is contingent on the response to this demonstration of the cost of broken systems and inequitable practices.
The things we always said we should do someday – rural broadband, healthcare, and entrepreneurship support, addressing food and news deserts, providing childcare, and developing capital alternatives to banks – have quickly become the things we should have done yesterday.
Rather than defining rural communities by the progress that is believed to have stopped, we can instead choose to define them by the progress they’ve made despite massive disinvestment and, perhaps, by the progress they could make if they had the support.
Trust the new narrative
For anybody seeking to support rural America, and potentially diminish the civic and economic divide, offer trust in the capacity of rural people and listen to new narratives.
Commentary on rural communities has long reinforced perspectives, sometimes explicitly and at times implicitly, that rural decline is inevitable. The popular understanding of this decline follows a familiar script: previous generations age and die off, new generations move to tech-hub cities across the country, and the declining monochromatic economies and demographics left in their wake provide little motivation for residents to move back or new ones to consider their future there.
Rather than defining rural communities by the progress that is believed to have stopped, we can instead choose to define them by the progress they’ve made despite massive disinvestment and, perhaps, by the progress they could make if they had the support.
Ideas and commentary about rural communities are shaped by the problems such places pose; portrayed as an inefficient drag on resources and national priorities. A 2018 New York Times opinion piece epitomized this when they asked “What if nothing really works?” Recognizing that applying the usual, unimaginative economic remedies to rural people hasn’t worked and isn’t likely to do so in the future, they suggest to reform housing policies in New York and San Francisco in order to accept fleeing rural residents. Escape is the solution that economists offer when they throw up their hands, and is perpetuated by popular stories such as Hillbilly Elegy. All of it missing the critical political, demographic, and economic nuances that reveal a more complicated story – as well as the compelling pull of rural spaces in a post-pandemic America. In 2018, the Pew Research Center found that more urban (30%) and suburban (35%) residents are interested in moving to a rural community than rural residents (20%) are interested in moving to an urban community, an increasingly possible trend in light of this year.
Viewing rural spaces as an American relic of a disappearing world ignores the innovative spirit that made these diverse communities vibrant in the first place. That innovation and diversity remains key to the future of rural communities.
It is time for policy makers and well-intentioned funders alike to consider that the usual series of rural-revitalization efforts miss the mark because it centers on what others can bring to the table as the key to rural America’s future rather than the capabilities of the innovators and leaders already working hard in rural communities across the country. What they can provide are resources that enable the innovators already there to make progress on work they already know needs to be done.
It’s not surprising that with a dismissive narrative and a steady multi-decade increase in rural zip codes deemed economically “distressed” that some leaders eventually start to ask, “what’s left?”
Larger businesses eliminate just as many jobs as they create. Nowhere is this cycle more familiar than in rural communities where the departure of a large employer is often interpreted as a commentary on the viability of the entire town.
Fortunately, what’s left is a creative and innovative population of rural entrepreneurs, but it’s important to critically analyze how these rural entrepreneurs and communities have been supported – or harmed – by past decisions and how we can do better as we move forward from the pandemic.
The common “solutions” that consistently fail do so because, at best, they fail to build anything of value in the community and, at worst, they dismiss the value already inherent in the community. They include business recruitment predicated on incentives that chip away at the tax base and limit a rural community’s ability to make long-term civic and infrastructure investments. And, far too often, rural communities pair the perennial claim of a cheaper cost of living with tax incentives that cost the community more than the recruited company thinks their worth.
Research indicates that nearly all net new job creation comes from new and young firms. Larger businesses eliminate just as many jobs as they create. Nowhere is this cycle more familiar than in rural communities where the departure of a large employer is often interpreted as a commentary on the viability of the entire town. Coffeyville, Kansas, experienced the full brunt of this cycle as it invested valuable resources during two decades in attracting an Amazon distribution center and then invested even more in desperately trying to keep it there.
Yet, just as a large employer leaving a town can be a frightening prospect, so too can the employer that stays. Dollar General and similar stores have proliferated across rural America. Nearly all of them brought to town by the lack of similar services and usually facilitated by some mix of tax and utility incentives offered by the local government.
They’re the local manifestation of the trends started by Walmart, refined by Amazon, and now perfected; local competitors pushed out of the market, often with local government support, and a poor imitation left in their place.
It’s not that locally owned grocers and retailers aren’t viable in rural communities, it’s just that they don’t face a level playing field.Those valuable and hard-earned community resources that could be used in support of local entrepreneurs are instead being co-opted by companies like Dollar General.
Every brightly lit corporate store on the edge of town is a monument to a system that does not build community or advance a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Every local financial incentive offered to a corporate store represents a choice – to undervalue the potential of the entrepreneurs in a community and overestimate what the recruited company will bring.The years spent chasing big business can never be recovered by the community; they’ll always feel the cost of what they didn’t do while they spent millions of tax dollars pursuing “their Amazon.” And while the cost may be measured in the tax dollars spent and lost, it should also be measured in the number of potential entrepreneurs that could have benefitted from a similar investment from their local leaders.
Every brightly lit corporate store on the edge of town is a monument to a system that does not build community or advance a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem. How many ideas were left unpursued when a loan guarantee from the county could have made the difference, an empty building could have been subsidized for their use, flexible capital options could have been developed, or a local mentoring program could have helped them consider the viability of their entrepreneurial goals?
What’s left is every dark, abandoned building downtown – and what it could still be.
Build, don’t buy
Travel any rural region in this country and you will find communities that have opted for a different approach. In communities like Ord, Nebraska, and the small, rural town of Emporia, Kansas, innovative rural leaders hint at a simpler answer to the common question of how to save rural America.
Their examples tell us to build, don’t buy. Build your people and your entrepreneurs. Embrace your artists and build up your capacity for leadership.
In Emporia, they invested in their local entrepreneurs and infrastructure during the course of nearly 30 years. They have leveraged an active Main Street America program to develop capital options customized for entrepreneurs as well as technical support for prospective entrepreneurs. This approach, paired with support for the arts and collaboration with statewide and regional entrepreneurship support organizations, has equipped Emporia to weather the loss of major employers and grow its economic base.
How to save rural America… Build, don’t buy. Build your people and your entrepreneurs. Embrace your artists and build up your capacity for leadership.
Ord invested the last two decades in building an entrepreneurial ecosystem that matches appropriate capital options to the entrepreneurs that need it and provides leadership classes and mentoring across the community. The case study that outlines Ord’s efforts shows that the county Ord resides in, Valley County, went from losing 27% of its population in the 1970-80s to approximately 10% in the early 2000s, to about 1% in the last 10 years. That is an outstanding improvement that sets them apart in the region.
Traveling to Ord, you’ll still find the ubiquitous Dollar General and the Casey’s but because of their long-term investments, you’ll also find a thriving entrepreneurial community where an empty building isn’t a marker of loss – all conversation, instead, turns to what kind of entrepreneur will reinvent the space.
Ord and Emporia don’t tell us these solutions are easy, in fact they’ll tell you how hard it is to stay the course. The biggest “disinvestment” made in rural is that of time – short-term solutions at the expense of tackling the big problems. Systemic challenges rarely change because the conversations required are often politically uncomfortable; lasting change takes too long and too much money to solve.
Share the risk to build the new Heartland
Cultivated by entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking, those who call the critical spaces outside of the country’s metropolitan cities home are creating prosperous, inclusive communities – and with investment, they’ll get there faster. The way forward must focus on urgently investing in the critical elements of the new rural economy starting with broadband, entrepreneurship, and empowering local leaders with the tools they need to realize critical systems change.
Visit any rural town in the Heartland and you will find a leader that is trying to accomplish everything from writing grants to upgrade an old CT scanner at their critical access hospital to fundraising for the community library to managing a local maker-space and trying to help entrepreneurs. Local leaders’ work is difficult and necessary. The voices calling for “business as usual” are loud. Yet, they are reinventing overlooked county seats and counter-acting prosaic perceptions of small-town life into the new Heartland.
It’s never been more evident than during this pandemic as local leaders and entrepreneurs have stepped up while traditional power brokers have failed to address urgent needs. Like the small town minister who started a simple Facebook group hoping to connect a few farmers with a few people trying to buy food safely in a pandemic. A few months later, nearly 150K people have joined the group and agricultural producers are experiencing spikes in sales. In rural communities across the Heartland, entrepreneurs and leaders with similarly powerful concepts are capable of building the future of their communities.
Rural entrepreneurs need the support of well-connected funders and national resources, and would benefit from the capacity that only philanthropy and state funders can provide, including grant-writing support, professional development, and funding.
Let’s not let them do that work alone.
They need the support of well-connected funders and national resources, and would benefit from the capacity that only philanthropic and state funders can provide, including grant-writing support, professional development, and funding. Those looking to provide support can connect them with like-minded leaders in other rural communities, create opportunity to collaborate with outside voices and experts, and facilitate conversation through trusted partners.
Let’s help carry the risk.
The Kauffman Foundation’s approach to supporting rural communities in the Heartland is based on the principles of supporting local leaders that are pursuing an entrepreneurship led economic model, listening to the input of all who currently or will call rural home, connecting local leaders with their peers across the region for greater collaboration, and leveraging our funding to accelerate the efforts of others.
We’re pushing back against tired narratives about a rural America that needs saving. We’ll continue to amplify diverse voices and catalyze the efforts of local leaders ready to build the new Heartland.
WRITTEN BY CHRIS HARRIS Senior Program Officer, EntrepreneurshipKauffman Foundation
Kansas Eviction Prevention Program
Attention Landlords and Tenants:
Kansas Eviction Prevention Program (KEPP) is available for Landlords and Tenants for up to $5,000 (with qualifications) for Tenants experiencing COVID-related financial hardship who have missed at least one rental payment since April 1, 2020.
For details and application visit www.kshousingcorp.org or contact the Cheyenne County Development Corporation office at email@example.com or 785-332-3508.
CCDC Annual Meeting
CCDC ANNUAL MEETING
The Annual Meeting of the Cheyenne County Development Corporation was held at the Majestic Restaurant on October 9, 2020.
Many thanks to Keri Meyer and her staff for serving a delicious chicken fried steak dinner which was enjoyed by all who attended. The meal was provided by the CCDC.
President Kary Zwegardt called the meeting to order and welcomed everyone. The minutes of the 2019 Annual Meeting were read by Secretary Becca Butler and approved. Treasurer Jason Padgett gave the Annual Financial Report which was approved.
Two Board of Director positions were open. The membership elected Bud Erskin and Fernando Montelongo to serve three-year terms.
Director Helen Dobbs gave the Annual Update on activities of the organization, which was followed by discussion. President Kary Zweygardt gave his remarks.
Certificates of Appreciation were presented to Cheyenne County Emergency Management, Cheyenne County EMT’s, Cheyenne County Sheriff’s Department, Fire Departments in St. Francis and Bird City, Cheyenne County Food Bank and the United Methodist Thrift Store. Certificates were presented to Cheyenne County and the City of St. Francis for continued support of the organization.
Following the meeting, the Board of Director’s met. The following Officers and Director’s will represent the Cheyenne County Development Corporation
President—Kary Zweygardt, Crossroads Studio
Vice-President—Bud Erskin, Majestic Restaurant and Truck Stop
Secretary—Rebecca Butler, Farm Bureau
Treasurer—Jason Padgett, Eagle Communications
Director’s—Justin Culwell, Cornerstone Real Estate
Fernando Montelongo, Sainty Super’s
David Butler, the City of St. Francis
Willy Martinez, Cheyenne County Board of
For Immediate Release:
August 13, 2020
Lauren Fitzgerald, Press Secretary
Governor Laura Kelly announces second round of CARES Act funding applications to
open August 19 at 12:00 p.m.
TOPEKA – Governor Laura Kelly has announced businesses will soon be able to apply for
a total of more than $130 million in grants to serve those most affected by the pandemic and
for companies that can expand broadband access in the state.
Information on SPARK economic development and connectivity grant programs can now
be found online at kansascommerce.gov/covidrelief. Grant applications will be accepted
beginning at 12:00 p.m. Wed., Aug. 19, 2020.
“These funds will both provide necessary immediate relief to businesses and contribute to a
more strategic, competitive Kansas economy in the future,” said Governor Kelly. “I want to
thank the SPARK Taskforce for recommending these strategic investments and the State
Finance Council for approving the use of these funds.”
In addition to providing financial relief, grants will be available to businesses whose
products and services will be needed in greater volume to help combat the virus and its
effects. Funding is also being made available to expand broadband access both through
infrastructure improvements and by partnerships with internet service providers to serve
low-income households. These grants are funded through the Coronavirus Relief Fund of
the federal CARES Act.
This pandemic has affected each sector differently, with industries having very different
needs from one another. With this in mind, applications for grants are being made available
in the following categories:
• Small Business Working Capital Grants
Kansas businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible to apply for Small
Business Working Capital grants. Funds can be used to pay working capital expenses
such as payroll, rent, mortgage insurance, utilities, inventory and more. Grants will
be awarded on a rolling basis until funds are depleted.
• Securing Local Food Systems Grants
The Securing Local Food Systems grant program was created to support Kansas
meat processing facilities, food processors, grocers and food banks to address food
for human consumption supply chain disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 public
• PPE Procurement Grants
The PPE Procurement grant program will award businesses funds for the purchase of
personal protective equipment (PPE), implementation of workplace redesigns,
additional signage, new technology solutions for distance working and other items to
comply with COVID-19 public health guidelines on safely returning employees to
• PPE Manufacturing Grants
PPE Manufacturing grants will provide funding to manufacturers to reimburse
certain costs to manufacture critically needed PPE. The grant funding will assist
entities with creating new business while contributing to the fight against the current
COVID-19 public health emergency.
• COVID-19 Bioscience Product Development Acceleration Grants
Kansas has a strong pipeline of bioscience related companies developing SARS-CoV2 diagnostic, therapeutic and medical counter measures. This grant program will
accelerate commercialization and go-to-market strategies, allowing these Kansas
companies to quickly deploy novel technology by optimizing value and reducing risk
through informed decision making.
• Connectivity Emergency Response Grants
The Connectivity Emergency Response Grant (CERG) was created to address the
increased need for connectivity in Kansas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proposed projects should improve connectivity to unserved and underserved areas of
Kansas to address the needs of telework, telehealth, distance learning and other
remote business services.
• Broadband Partnership Adoption Grants
The Broadband Partnership Adoption Grant will provide support for low-income
households by partnering with ISPs to leverage their existing adoption infrastructure
and assure connectivity to as many Kansans as possible.
• IT, Cybersecurity & IT Project Management Certification Training Grants
To mitigate the job losses in Kansas as a result of COVID-19, the Kansas
Department of Commerce is seeking a rapid response training program that will
provide training, certificate testing and job placement assistance in the areas of IT,
cybersecurity and IT project management.
• Kansas Tech College Advanced Manufacturing Grants
This program will support the needs of the advanced manufacturing industry in
Kansas. The program will focus on reskilling/upskilling individuals affected by
COVID-19 to meet economic sector needs in high-demand, high-wage occupations.
Details on each category, including award amounts, proposal requirements, eligibility and
more can be found at kansascommerce.gov/covidrelief.
Governor Laura Kelly and DCF Secretary Laura Howard today announced
efforts to support parents and childcare providers during the COVID-19
pandemic. The “Hero Relief Program” expands DCF’s child care
assistance subsidies for families and provides financial support
directly to child care providers. The new program specifically targets
health care workers, first responders and other essential workers.
“We know these essential workers are risking their health every day to
protect others,” Kelly said. “The Hero Relief Program is our way of
saying ‘we’ve got your back’ by making sure families have access
to quality affordable child care.”
Beginning Monday, April 20, child care subsidies will be available to
essential workers who financially qualify. The list includes:
· Health care workers (including RNs, other medical
professionals and health care support workers, hospital and
· First responders (including law enforcement, fire and rescue,
and other public safetyworkers)
· Food and agricultureworkers
· Judicial branch (essentialservices)
· National Guard
· Child and adult protective servicespecialists
· Child care providers caring for children of eligible workers
In order to qualify, families must have countable gross income at or
below 250% of the federal poverty level. For an average family of four
that equals a monthly income of $5,458. Families will receive the full
DCF subsidy amount based on their family size, with no family-share
“During a time when these everyday heroes are working long hours, we
hope this program helps relieve some of the financial burden they’re
experiencing,” Howard said. “It’s our duty to support families
during this uncertain time so we encourage families to apply.”
The Hero Relief Program also supports child care providers by providing
a menu of stipends and grants to assist during the pandemic.
Grants may include:
· Sustainability stipends for all KDHE-Licensed child care and
relative providers to help pay for ongoing expenses like food, supplies,
· Revenue replacement subsidies for DCF enrolled child
· Supply grants to assist with pandemic related expenses like
gloves, disinfectants, soap and other necessaryitems.
· Emergency worker support bonuses – a one-time bonus to
providers who care for children of health care workers and
For more information and for instructions on how to apply, visit
"Kansas at Your Service"
"Kansas At Your Service"
The State of Kansas is pleased to announce a, FREE online customer service training class called "Kansas At Your Service". The need for customer service training has been discussed for several years by retail, lodging, and restaurant establishments. They needed and wanted something that worked and we believe we have developed such a tool.
Kansas' tourism industry is one of state's top employers and is a leading contributor to Kansas' great way of life. It encompasses careers in many fields including hotels, restaurants, museums, performing arts centers, convention centers, retail stores, campgrounds, state parks, national parks, visitor attractions, wineries, tour operators and many, many more professions. The continued success of the state's tourism industry directly depends on first class service that will make our visitors' Kansas experience memorable. That's where Kansas At Your Service comes in. The Kansas At Your Service system of customer service will provide the type of service that will keep visitors coming back to Kansas visit after visit.
The Kansas At Your Service program is a statewide customer service training certification program created to support the development of the tourism & hospitality industry through enhanced guest experiences. It provides statewide standardized customer service training, emphasizes the importance of quality customer service in the Tourism & Hospitality Industry, and equips employees statewide with tools and resources to better serve our visitors.
The web-based certification training, available in both English and Spanish, is offered at no charge and after completing the Kansas At Your Service online program a personalized certificate, which is recognized by employers throughout the state as a symbol of expertise in service and knowledge of the key success factors in Kansas' visitor industry, can be printed off.
Once the Kansas At Your Service hospitality course is completed, then the user will be able to move onto the regional destination courses. The Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau and Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway are the two destinations that have been instrumental in getting this program off the ground and running and each have the courses available. Once their regional courses are taken, a completion certificate will be available as well.
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism collaborated with Peter Starks of the Red Global Group, LLC to create motivating yet common sense training modules. The behavioral vignettes deal with those everyday "transactions" which either make or break an otherwise memorable experience. The modules bring it right home, demonstrating that service, attitude, attention and sincerity make the difference.
To take the Kansas At Your Service program or for more information visit: http://www.KansasAtYourService.com
Tourism Division, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism
The official Kansas Tourism Web site
Half Empty or Half Full
"Is your life half-empty or half-full? What if I chose to find and embrace the silver linings, the life lessons in disguise? What if I chose to let go of the baggage I have been carrying around? The choice in perception makes all the difference." ~ John J. Murphy
We are all blessed with an opportunity to bring greater joy and prosperity to this world. The hand we are dealt simply makes life interesting. The secret to it all is in how we perceive things. Is your life 'half-empty' or 'half-full'? More importantly, what is even 'in your glass,' and how long have you been holding on to it?