If the pandemic has taught us anything — besides appreciation for teachers and expansive sweatpants — it’s that location isn’t what it used to be.
Gigantic skyscrapers in New York City sit empty as their workers do their jobs at home. Even in Kansas, many folks are sitting in their bedrooms or kitchens, staring intently at laptops as their children cause havoc in other parts of the house.
This is a big change.
For decades, states with large rural populations, such as Kansas, have seen residents leave for cities on the East or West coasts. That’s where the jobs are, the refrain went. While city living might have carried its share of challenges — expense, cramped living quarters, crime — the amenities and career opportunities made all the difference.
Now though, the amenities have been shuttered. Big city apartments, once seen as places to sleep and occasionally eat, are now occupied 24/7.
So why not do those jobs here? With remote work no longer a fantasy but a daily reality, why not allow workers to live wherever they like? And why not promote a state like Kansas — with its low cost of living, rolling vistas and friendly folk?
There are some practical considerations, to be sure.
We have to have high-quality broadband across the state. The kind of work that is being done remotely depends on speedy connections for regular video calls and collaborative, online work. While so much in our society and government these days is split among partisan lines, development of rural broadband networks can’t be controversial.
Indeed, right now it’s essential.
The state government has to be more representative of the people. No more foot-dragging on Medicaid expansion, nonsensical attempts to demonize the needy or discrimination toward LGBTQ+ folks. Those who might want to move to a rural state have options, and seeing a state Legislature absorbed with pettiness is a surefire turnoff.
Neither of these asks are particularly big. Work on broadband has proceeded in fits and starts, and sanity has intermittently broken out in the Statehouse.
But the benefits could be enormous. Those working on economic development for the state no doubt have it on their radar, but the rest of us should as well. Kansas has a real opportunity in these remote-work times, and we would be foolish to pass it up.