TOPEKA - Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers and Gov. Laura Kelly marked release of a report Monday articulating a rural-prosperity agenda designed to tackle challenges with housing, health care, physical and digital infrastructure, workforce development, child care and property tax rates.
Rogers, who participated in 130 roundtable meetings in a listening tour that covered 17,000 miles in 72 counties, was assigned responsibility by the Democratic governor for identification of barriers to long-term prosperity of rural communities and to build partnerships to chip away at those obstacles. He did so from the newly formed Office of Rural Prosperity in the Kansas Department of Commerce.
"While the creation of the Office of Rural Prosperity and my listening tour were great first steps, we know there is much more work to do in order to facilitate growth and prosperity in rural communities," Rogers said. "Just like folks in urban areas, rural communities define prosperity as having access to good-paying jobs that let them raise a family and have a secure future."
The consensus of people living outside urban centers is that they are proud of their schools and hospitals, but feel politicians in Topeka aren't focused on issues influencing their quality of life, he said.
Rogers said the Kelly administration would create three working groups on housing, childcare and workforce recruitment, retention and education. The objective is to bring people together to shape administrative reforms and to secure resources, he said.
"When I took office, I promised to rebuild Kansas and improve the quality of life for Kansans all across the state," Kelly said. "That, of course, included our rural communities, which have been neglected for far too long."
The report pointed to a shortage of affordable rural housing, insufficiency of broadband internet services, lack of access to quality childcare, weaknesses with workforce training and unreasonably high property taxes.
"A particularly important piece of infrastructure, we learned, was access to broadband. Kansas must expand broadband to our rural communities. Too few people think about this, but broadband is really the highways and railroads connecting businesses and communities and consumers to our markets," Rogers said.
Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, and Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, attended the Capital news conference and said they appreciated the governor resetting the conversation on rural development.
"The test is going to be: Is anything going to change?" said Jennings, who listed housing and childcare as profound challenges in rural communities.
Hineman said the Kelly administration hired staff members devoted to the subject, suggesting that it "won't just fall by the wayside" as it had done with previous governors.