Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
One common theme has emerged from the countless stories our newsrooms have written about the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months: Kansans are determined to survive and thrive, generously reaching out a hand to help our neighbors and friends.
Maybe it was a trait ingrained in our prairie roots, scarred through the battles of Bleeding Kansas or forged with stubborn resilience through the Dust Bowl years.
Kansans don’t back down from a challenge.
And what a challenge we have today.
Our statewide unemployment number surged to 11.2% in April — up from 2.8% in March. Counties are seeing a wide range, from 1.8% in Hamilton to 18.7% in Sedgwick. Reno is at 10.2%, Salina 9.6%, Franklin 9.2%, Leavenworth 11.4% and Crawford 9.0%. Shawnee County, featuring the Capital City, is at 12.1%. McPherson is at 5.8% and Ellis 7.1%.
Our friends in southwest Kansas are faring better but still hurting — Finney County is at 5.9%, Ford 4.6% and Pratt 5.6%.
Nonfarm jobs declined by 130,400 over one month. A sector facing particularly steeps hills to climb is leisure and hospitality, which lost 50,200 jobs.
Today, our news teams across Kansas — in conjunction with 250 publications of Gannett — explore what our communities can expect in coming months as we focus on our economic rebuild. The "Rebuilding America" project focuses on a dozen economic drivers.
What we found in Kansas gives us hope.
Hutchinson schools had begun a redesign of instructional programs to make sure they meet students' needs in a changing global technological world. That helped smooth the path to learning from home.
"With the coronavirus, we’ve been ahead of the game," Alma Henry, principal of Hutchinson Magnet School at Allen, told The Hutchinson News. "We felt that this could be sustained in a virtual setting."
Superintendent Mike Folks said the schools that implemented redesign used out-of-the-box thinking to implement power-based, individualized learning.
"It put them ahead of the game," Folks told the News.
Chris Payne, owner of Topeka’s Heartland Motorsports Park, has yet to hold an event in its 2020 racing season. He’s hopeful of putting on the marquee national drag racing event, which was rescheduled to Aug. 21-23.
Despite the eagerness to get back on track, Payne wants what’s best for Kansas and its residents.
"Overreaction in this situation is not a bad thing," he said. "It can be frustrating to some, but the alternative is underreacting and things go bad."
Like many grocery stores across the state, Prairy Market & Deli in Newton innovated its business practices on the fly. Owner Aaron Gaeddert offered flexible hours to floor workers in an effort to keep his team employed as much as possible.
Gaeddert added personal shoppers, created a website to track orders and implemented curbside pickup.
"We're making decisions on behalf of not only our employees but our customers as well," he told The Newton Kansan.
Inside, you’ll find many more such inspirational stories. And our reporters will be following along as our businesses continue reopening, our friends and neighbors go back to work, the economy reboots and we all face down this challenge.
Thank you for your determination, your grit and your love of Kansas.
Tomari Quinn is the Kansas state editor for Gannett.