Emporia State political scientist Michael Smith has an idea for the Rural Revitalization Committee chaired by former House Majority Leader Republican Don Hineman of Dighton. It must begin by realizing that the people who live there in the next generation won’t look like previous generations.
“Rural Kansas already doesn’t look like what it’s looked like in the past,” said Smith. “If it weren’t for immigration, outside of a few urban areas and college towns, Kansas’ population would actually be declining, but it’s not and it’s primarily because of immigration.”
It’s sort of Field of Dreams in reverse, if they come, then you can build it.
“You have to start with your workforce,” said Smith. “Why in the world would Amazon be building a headquarters in northern Virginia, near Washington D.C. with one of the highest costs of doing business in the country? There are a lot of cheaper places they could go, including Kansas, but that’s where the workers they need either live or are willing to move.”
Smith says businesses make more decisions based on that than they do based on tax breaks.
“Employer after employer in rural Kansas and in other places, too have said, the big thing we need right now are workers,” said Smith. “We need people who show up, who do an honest day’s work, who are ambitious. With a lot of young people moving out of rural Kansas, particularly the college educated young people, you can’t just depend on the people that grew up there to be that workforce. You’ve got to bring in new folks and you’ve got to create a place where they’re comfortable living and raising families.”
In short, embracing diversity is an important way to open up rural Kansas for development going forward.