Rural Kansans often feel as if their communities are overlooked or dismissed.
It’s a legitimate concern. Unfortunately, policymaking tends to favor places with bigger populations, leaving rural locales to do more with less because of declining populations.
Many small towns in Kansas have suffered over the years and face extinction without significant change. Knowing as much, it’s encouraging to see a push toward new strategies and greater awareness of assistance already available.
A western Kansas rancher is at the helm of a new Kansas House committee established to tackle issues that plague rural Kansas, ranging from workforce housing to broadband access.
Dighton Republican Rep. Don Hineman, a veteran legislator respected on both sides of the aisle, was a strong choice to direct the new Rural Revitalization Committee. He knows firsthand the need for a multifaceted approach to rural revitalization in the face of ongoing population declines.
The trend negatively affects schools, businesses, local government and other areas. Main Streets — considered the heart of communities — have deteriorated in too many towns.
Give credit to Hineman for going beyond the Statehouse to raise awareness of far-reaching rural challenges, to include sharing on social media compelling information on particulars of depopulation, broadband shortcomings and other key areas of concern. While such details are sobering, they’ve encouraged Kansans to pay attention to issues often overlooked, and grasp the grim reality.
Hineman’s committee rightly is digging into causes for rural Kansas population losses. When a community’s labor pool dries up, companies have no cause to consider those locations as future homes. Likewise, existing businesses may fail or head to places with more available workers.
Rural parts of the state also feel heightened pain of a failure to maintain and improve infrastructure. Good roads are economic lifelines, which means Kansas’ next long-range transportation plan must account for connections to rural communities determined to remain viable.
Rural declines hurt the state as a whole in a shrinking tax base, making the drive toward new policies important for all Kansans.
Whether it’s stepped-up understanding and use of existing economic development programs — incentives and workforce assistance proven to create and save good jobs, for example — folks in communities of every size should support efforts to maintain and build on the rich heritage of rural Kansas.