NICKERSON — About 120 people came to the Monday night kickoff of Kansas Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers’ 12-city Rural Prosperity Tour listening stops, exceeding organizers’ expectations.
The event coincided with meetings of the Nickerson City Council and the Nickerson-South Hutchinson USD 309 Board of Education, but in addition to local residents, the listening tour attracted people from Hutchinson and from neighboring counties. Organizers set up additional chairs in the Nickerson Community Center, serving a city of slightly more than 1,000 residents.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed,” Rogers said as people filed in. He opened his remarks by saying, “Wow.”
Rogers is shepherding the new Office of Rural Prosperity, established by Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration. The listening session in Nickerson capped a day of touring by Rogers of Stafford and Reno counties.
He saw a new grocery store in St. John and toured the city of Stafford. The itinerary in Reno County included a walk up Hutchinson’s Main Street and visits to two industries, Siemens Gamesa and Kuhn Krause. He was surprised, he said, by the number of workers at those plants who live in other towns.
With the Hutchinson Community Foundation acting as host for the Reno County visit, Rogers stopped for limeades at R-B Drive In, Hutchinson; visited Simple Abundance Farms in South Hutchinson; saw renovation at the Stevens building and checked out Smith’s Market, both on Hutchinson’s Main Street; painted an upper portion of a mural in progress in downtown Hutchinson; and traveled to Santa Fe Townhomes on West Fifth Avenue. Prior to the Nickerson Community Center forum, he visited Hedrick Exotic Animal Farm near Nickerson and ate supper at The Pizza Connection in downtown Nickerson.
“Nickerson and Reno County and the surrounding areas care for rural Kansas,” he said.
“We’re here to listen to you guys,” Rogers said to the Nickerson audience. Potentially, he said, what’s learned during the Rural Prosperity Tour could spur new legislation, changes in regulation or research.
During the 90-minute listening session, participants divided into small groups and were asked to define prosperity and to identify what is going right.
“We’re Kansas nice,” said Rogers, saying rural Kansans need to tout what they’re doing well.
Finally, participants were asked to identify barriers.
A growing economy with wages capable of sustaining a family defined prosperity for some participants. Strong schools and a good health care system were seen as strengths.
Barriers included inadequate broadband access, drug abuse, mental illness, high property taxes because of a shrinking tax base, properties in disrepair, flood plain challenges, the loss of businesses and empty buildings, and shallow job and talent pools.
“Our own attitudes” and “resistance to change” also were cited as barriers. “We have an apologetic mindset as a state,” Rogers heard.
Before leaving, participants were asked to take three sticky dots and select their top priorities from a list of seven priorities. Nickerson resident Felissa Wiens put her dots on revitalizing Main Street corridors, making state government work for rural Kansas and investing in rural infrastructure. She said she “thought that it’s good” for the community to talk about its strengthens and its needs.
Investing in infrastructure, supporting rural hospitals, revitalizing Main Street corridors and developing rural housing all drew a number of dots. Garnering the smallest number was “incentivizing active tourism.”
Representatives from the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Kansas Water Office also were at the Nickerson event. Other state departments and agencies are expected to have a presence at future stops on the Rural Property Tour.
The tour will conduct similar listening sessions in the region, with a July 30 stop in Ulysses and an Aug. 7 visit to Dodge City.
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