The chair of a new Kansas House committee focused on rural issues is looking to keep those that love rural Kansas at home, but they need technology to do it.

“At the top of my priority list for the committee, I would say, is access to high-speed broadband,” said committee chair, Republican Don Hineman of Dighton. “It’s become apparent to me that it’s equivalent to what a decent highway system was in the early 1900s and rural electrification in the 30s and 40s. Access to high-speed broadband is that critical in today’s society.”

Committee member Republican Larry Hibbard sees it as an economic issue.

“If we can get high-speed broadband into our rural areas, there’s so many jobs in America now that you can do from your home,” Hibbard said. “You really don’t have to live in the city or be close to the corporate office to do them. I think that’s one way we can pull some people back in to the rural area. I saw a printout the other day that, since redistricting in 2010, we’ve lost 12 more percent of our population in that district.”

Part of the reason people aren’t moving to rural Kansas is that they can’t find places to live there.

“Affordable workforce housing is a problem in every city in my district,” said Hineman. “It’s universal that there’s not enough housing for the folks that you need for the workforce. That’s a really difficult riddle to solve, but we need to at least talk about it and examine what success stories there are out there and what options might be available to local communities, without any promise that there’s going to be a great infusion of funding at the state level.”

Hineman said there are ag businesses that would like to expand, but they can’t find workers because those workers can’t find housing.

Photo courtesy Greg Akagi