Regional trend threatens rural opportunity program

Staff writer

Marion County Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman scrolled through 200 emails.

All of them inquired about moving to a rural opportunity zone, although many of the would-be applicants do not even specify that they want to move to Marion to receive student loan forgiveness and Kansas Income Tax exemption the program provides.

Those that are serious usually want student loan help to move into the state. Huffman said the county has already used funds on past ROZ applicants. She met with Commissioners Monday to ask for more funding for the program.

However, what Huffman was illustrating with pages and pages of emails is a new trend for local economies — young people are traveling to areas where they want to live and then finding jobs. She discussed the effects of this trend at the Regional Economic Area Partnership meeting on Friday.

One of the side effects to this trend is that grants are being disbursed to regional organizations instead of directly to counties. The county received $50,000 in a Rural Business Opportunity grant last year from U.S. Department of Agriculture. Key Convenience Store in Lincolnville is one of the businesses that used the grant.

While Huffman said, the county still has funding left from that grant to use toward local businesses she cannot apply for the grant this year because USDA is choosing to supply those grants regionally.

Marion County is a part of regional economic development organizations, including South Central Kansas Economic Development District, and receives funds from those organizations.

However, Huffman said regional groups are often inclined to split funds with higher percentages heading to counties that are more populous. Huffman gave the example of Flint Hills Frontiers. Marion County is listed as a part of the group, but the group’s focus has been on counties around U.S. 70 like Riley, Dickinson and Wabaunsee.

 

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