Kansas HomeTown Prosperity Initiative builds community in many ways
Harry A. Watts, Managing Director-Governmental Relations at Kansas Farm Bureau, and Don Macke, Director at the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, presented the opening session at the recent AFBF Rural Development Conference in Louisville. Harry and Don presented on their collaborative community building effort, the Kansas HomeTown Prosperity Initiative (KHPI), a program that builds on small towns’ existing resources and assets.
Don stressed that it is important for residents in rural areas to become involved in community activities. He warned that many people wait too long to become involved, only acting when a crisis in town has already occurred. “It is critical to keep the high quality of life that will attract our young people back to rural communities,” he explained. Keeping the local school, grocery store, health clinic and other necessary community assets are critical, because bringing them back once they have closed their doors is much more difficult.
Don explained that the current recession has offered opportunities for entrepreneurship for those who have lost their jobs. They might never have had the courage to go into business for themselves if they had continued to be comfortably employed. Many new entrepreneurs are launching out on their own rather than sitting around.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce Office of Advocacy, there were 27.5 million total businesses in the United States, and 21.4 million self-employed (businesses without employees). On the other end of the spectrum, there were only 18,311 businesses with more than 500 employees, according to statistics from 2007-2009.
An entrepreneur is a person who creates and grows a venture, and entrepreneur-build economies. “It is important to create jobs,” Don explained, “but it is even more important to create opportunities. The path to financial success is being in business.”
Kansas Farm Bureau became involved in strengthening rural communities because a caring FB member, concerned for her family and her community, pleaded with KFB leaders to become engaged in rural development. With out-migration of population and decline in rural Kansas, Kansas Farm Bureau searched for solutions to resolve these grave issues.
One shocking discovery was illuminated in a Transfer of Wealth study that predicted Kansas could expect approximately $66 billion to transfer from one generation to the next by 2020 and roughly $500 billion by 2050. Those dollars will most certainly leave their communities/counties and go to children who live elsewhere. Ideally, 3-5% of that amount ($3.3 billion) should be donated to local community foundations for strategic investment in community improvement. Those investments could help finance a business plan for an entrepreneurship or small business or used to address leadership development growth within these rural communities. Community foundations could develop innovative projects that would address the attraction and retention of our youth.
With initial funding from USDA Rural Development and SBA, Kansas Farm Bureau began two rural development efforts, the Kansas HomeTown Prosperity Initiative and the Kansas Entrepreneurial Communities Initiative.
The Kansas HomeTown Prosperity Initiative, based on Nebraska’s HomeTown Competitiveness program, builds on four key elements: developing and mobilizing leadership capacity; capturing wealth transfer through charitable giving; energizing entrepreneurship; and attracting and engaging young people. “Our three pilot communities – Atwood, Onaga and Sedan – are following the best practices already established in Nebraska,” Harry explained. “Community case studies have illustrated what works when a strategic plan for improvement is developed and carried out.”
The Kansas Entrepreneurial Communities Initiative, piloted in six communities, uses an entrepreneur-focused development strategy. Building on a support system of Kansas Farm Bureau, USDA-RD, NetWork Kansas and the Kansas Small Business Development Center, the KECI focuses on growth-oriented entrepreneurs and enhanced opportunities for attracting people and growing businesses.
Results in Atwood (Rawlins County) show that the effort is paying off. New families are moving in, school enrollment has increased for the first time since 2000 (after a 34% loss in student population), more jobs are available and income has increased. Communities flourish by choice, and Atwood has chosen to turn itself around to become a successful rural community with a high quality of life to attract its youth to return to raise their families.
Kansas Farm Bureau can be proud of listening to its members and taking decisive action.