Dennis McKinneyWritten by Rep. Dennis McKinney
September 24, 2008


Across Kansas, rural communities have dwindled in recent years.  Our small towns lack affordable housing, business opportunity, broadband technology and adequate strategic planning.  Unfortunately, an increased number of natural disasters throughout the state further strain opportunities for growth in rural areas. 

The United States and the world face a serious food and energy crisis.  We all feel the impact of rising prices at the gas pump and in the grocery store.  In a global effort to address this problem, Kansas is sure to play a critical role in the solution through our abundant production of agriculture, livestock and renewable energy.  Because rural communities facilitate these markets, it is in the best interest of our state's economy, heritage and future to increase rural investment.

In 2008, the Legislature established the Kansas Commission on Rural Policy.  The Commission will develop recommendations for rural economic development based on leadership, youth retention and rural entrepreneurship.  Additionally, the legislation increases population limits of the Rural Housing Incentive Act, enabling more cities and counties to qualify incentives to spur development of affordable housing.
The Department of Commerce also recently opened the Office of Rural Opportunity to spur development in small communities.  Together with the Kansas Small Business Development Center, Kansas Department of Agriculture and Network Kansas, the Office of Rural Opportunity will work directly with small communities to create localized plans that attract businesses, workers and investment.

These are important accomplishments but we must continue to move forward.  Rural development is tied to Kansas' most important and profitable assets.  Economic stability, energy production, agriculture and bioscience research are just a few markets that rely on the infrastructure of our small communities. 

In May, we commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Greensburg tornado.  The celebration held significance to all of Kiowa County but also represented an important achievement for Kansas.  Together, with a variety of Kansas partners, we proved how much our rural communities can accomplish even in the direst circumstances.  Though it was not a major focus of the last legislative session, rural investment is of critical importance to Kansas' future.  This issue must be part of our long-term vision for the state.

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