McDill "Huck" Boyd
Today marks a first. Today we begin a brand new program, focusing on what rural Kansans are doing to help themselves in these challenging times. And in our view, there's no better way to begin than to talk about a leader in a rural community. It's through local leadership that rural development really happens.
Let me tell you about a young man who was born and raised in northwest Kansas. His name was McDill Boyd. In 1925, McDill enrolled at Kansas State University. He was having a successful collegiate career -- but when his hometown bank suddenly failed, his savings were lost, and he returned home to work in the family newspaper business. The business was located in a county seat town of about 3,000 people. He took over the operation of the paper when his father died, and continued as editor and publisher the rest of his life.
But that is not where the story ends. Like his parents, McDill had a larger vision for his community. He once said that his mother taught him "every day is a good day, so make the most of it." McDill made the most of his community, as well as of his days.
When he saw the need for jobs in the community, he helped develop local industry and was instrumental in bringing a new, cooperatively-owned oil refinery to the town. It was the world's first co-operative refinery. He worked on projects to benefit the elderly, young people, and the under-privileged. When he saw the doctor shortages in rural areas, he worked for legislative approval of funding for the first family practice residencies in Kansas, legislation copied elsewhere in the U.S.
He cared deeply about his community, and that fact made all the difference. He got involved. He served as county chairman with his political party, and worked his way up the ranks to become national committeeman for Kansas. When senators and presidents wanted to know what rural people thought about an issue, they would call on him.
Then came the time that the Rock Island Railroad took bankruptcy and proposed to abandon 465 miles of rail line across the heartland -- including McDill's hometown. Loss of the rail line would have been devastating to the communities, farmers, and other businesses served by the railroad. McDill led the effort to form a Mid States Port Authority to buy the line and continue service. Today a private sector shortline is operating on what would have been abandoned track.
All this is testimony to what one motivated local leader can do. McDill had a saying that "Community service is the rent you pay for the privilege of living on this earth."
He had a global vision, but he still cared about his hometown. He was willing to serve, to volunteer, to help make it a better place. He served as a U.S. delegate to a United Nations' month-long Economic and Social Council in Geneva, Switzerland -- yet he found time to lead the fund drive so that the local high school band could go to a bowl game.
And so we remember McDill for his community service. But not many people knew him as McDill. When he was a little boy, his tousled, sandy hair, twinkling blue eyes, and winning smile made him a "Huckleberry Finn"-sort of character. The nickname stuck, and all his life he was known as Huck.
Today the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at KSU strives to honor and replicate his legacy of service to rural America. May Huck Boyd's example remind countless others of what is possible when local people want to make a difference.
What is an "entrepreneur" -- other than a word that is hard to pronounce? Webster defines "entrepreneur" as "an organizer or promoter of an enterprise; especially, one that manages and assumes the risk of a business."
In today's rural Kansas, an entrepreneur means much, much more. It means someone who's willing to buck the tide, to seize an opportunity, to take a chance. It means someone who is alert to the opportunities of the marketplace.
That's a challenging thing to do in rural Kansas. During the 1980s, employment in metropolitan Kansas counties increased by 19.2 percent -- while employment in the 61 most rural counties fell by 10.4 percent. Rural jobs are fewer. Business opportunities are reduced.
But entrepreneurs make a difference. They are willing to buck the tide, in spite of the risk. They find a market opportunity. And successful entrepreneurs make it work.
In Moundridge, Kansas, we find the offices of CKH, Incorporated. CKH stands for Central Kansas Hatchery. Nelson and Marilyn Galle are the co-owners of CKH, and Nelson is president and Marilyn is treasurer.
Nelson Galle is himself a product of rural Kansas. He grew up on a farm in rural McPherson County. It is a Mennonite community. "When we talk about 'minorities' down here," he says, with tongue in cheek, "we mean Baptists and Methodists." Nelson attended Kansas State University and received advanced degrees in agriculture. He also graduated from Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program. He went on to a distinguished career with Hesston Corporation, including stints in management with the firm's international operations in Europe. He later served as a business consultant to a Fortune 500 cooperative.
Yet when the time came that there was an opportunity to return home and take over CKH, Inc., in Moundridge, Kansas, he took it.
CKH was producing both chicks and turkeys, when the Galles assumed ownership from the retiring owner six years ago. Today, CKH has an integrated system of turkey breeding, laying, hatching and marketing day-old turkeys -- called "poults."
Last year CKH produced nearly 3 million poults and is the only hatchery of turkey poults in Kansas and Nebraska.
And what drew Nelson Galle into this particular business? Quite simply -- the opportunity was there, in his hometown. The marketplace was sending a signal. Consumers were wanting more of the product. And Kansas had grain to make it grow.
He saw that per capita consumption of turkey meat was increasing rapidly -- by more than 50 percent in just 5 years, from 1985 to 1990. In California, an indicator of trends in the U.S., per capita consumption of turkey meat is higher than elsewhere. More varieties of turkey products were being developed all the time.
And so this entrepreneur took the chance. Since then, the dollar value of the poults produced in Kansas has nearly doubled. Currently, Nelson is president of the Kansas Turkey Federation and the Kansas Poultry Association.
If you asked Nelson what are the keys to his success, you wouldn't get a business school lecture. His response would be very direct and down to earth -- such comments as "I stay in close touch with my customers, work at keeping costs down, and keep good employees around me."
The "people" factor is very important to Nelson. Last December he went around the business with a camera, taking candid photos of each employee at work. An appreciation dinner was then held, where a slide show featured each employee and as a favor, each person received a copy of his or her picture on the job.
"We encouraged our people to take these home and put them up on their refrigerator door, or wherever," Nelson says. "It gave them a reason to show the members of their family what they do, and make them feel a part of it."
This family atmosphere pays big dividends. And CKH is well-suited to the community. Part-time employment is important both to CKH and local residents. Nearly 35 people are needed at the facility on hatch days, which are once or twice each week. On other days, many of those workers can pursue their farming or other enterprises.
While the core staff is small, nearly 75 people are employed by CKH working in the hatchery, on the turkey egg farms, or driving the trucks delivering poults out of state. And that makes a big impact in a rural community like Moundridge.
From Europe to Moundridge, Nelson and Marilyn Galle are entrepreneurs who have made a difference. Today, they are making a difference in rural Kansas. We hope this example encourages other Kansas entrepreneurs also.
What happens when "rural" meets "urban"? All too often, there is conflict. Stress can occur when urban areas encroach into the neighboring farmland. A farmer working on the edge of a city will find his work increasingly hassled by traffic, congestion, and urban resistance to the noise, dust, and smell of a farming operation.
It seems unfair -- after all, the farmer was there first. Yet the urban encroachment always seems to win. It can be a big problem for farmers around cities.
But entrepreneurs see problems as opportunities. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, the saying goes. And that is a key part of the story of Eberly Farm.
Merl and Dixie Eberly and son, Sam, were farming in an area northwest of Wichita in the 1950s. The land had been in their family for generations. In fact, their ancestors originally took title to the land in 1883.
Yet Wichita is a growing city. Urban development grew rapidly out to Eberly Farm. Today the city couldn't be any closer -- the city boundary is now at the Eberly Farm property line!
Some farmers would resent such encroachment. But here is what happened with Eberly Farm.
Merl and Dixie were attending a city church, in the heart of downtown. They were the only farm family in the church. As a result, when the church wanted to have a picnic or the youth wanted a hayrack ride, there was only one logical location: Eberly Farm. People loved it there.
The Eberlys were friendly, gracious hosts. The area was clean and well-maintained. The natural setting was very attractive. And more and more people wanted to visit Eberly Farm.
The marketplace was sending a signal. Here was an opportunity. With help from son, Sam, and his wife, Judy, the Eberlys started to offer hayrack rides, horseback riding, and picnic areas as a business for family outings and company picnics.
In the mid-1960s, the Eberlys built a swimming pool and recreation building in the middle of a cow pasture. And like the phrase in the movie Field of Dreams -- if you build it, they will come -- the Eberlys built, and people came.
In 1980, Sam and Judy Eberly took over the management of Eberly Farm from his parents. They built new facilities. They remodeled a hay barn. They added recreation areas. In 1985, they used a rustic design for a new building called the Outpost.
In 1986, the Eberlys offered meal service for the first time. Home-cooked foods, including barbecue and steaks, were made available. I can tell you first-hand that their smoked loins are delicious. And business was good.
Other farmers would have resented the encroachment of the urban population. This farm family made it into an advantage.
Then came February 23, 1990. Merl, now retired, was returning from church choir practice on a Wednesday night. He spotted a flicker of light in the window of the new Outpost building. He called Sam. But before long, an electrical fire had consumed the building. It burned to the ground.
Again, adversity had struck. The Eberlys fought back. Just 99 days later, a new, improved Outpost building opened where the old one had stood.
Today, Sam and Judy Eberly are managing the farm with their two grown children -- the fifth generation to work there. In 1991, - get this- 50,000 people visited Eberly Farm.
Other farm entrepreneurs ask Sam and Judy Eberly if they should try to convert their farms into recreation facilities, as Eberlys have done. The Eberlys' advice is simple: treat it like a business. Organize, plan and promote. It demands a great deal of time and effort -- and marketing.
The Eberlys say that being customer-oriented is a key to the success of any business, including this one. Sam and Judy are constantly looking for new, fun and innovative ways to offer their customers family-oriented experiences in a rustic setting, such as a children's petting zoo called barnyard buddies.
This is what can happen when urban meets rural: An enterprise is developed which has benefits for both. It requires an entrepreneur who can find the opportunity in adversity.
That's a tremendous need in rural America today...and that's the way that Sam and Judy Eberly are making a difference.
Is rural Kansas going to the dogs? Well, that all depends on how you mean it.
In one rural Kansas community, dogs have become a part of the economic development of the town -- and we're not talking about greyhound racetracks or puppy mills here. We're talking about a non-profit enterprise which trains dogs to help disabled people. The payroll for this enterprise, plus the money spent by clients and their families as they visit, gives the town an economic boost.
One might expect to find such an enterprise in an urban center. This one is in Washington. No, not Washington, D.C. -- Washington, Kansas, population 1,488.
The key leader in making this happen is Bill Acree, president and executive director of Kansas Specialty Dog Service, or KSDS. Kansas Specialty Dog Service trains assistance dogs for people with certain special needs.
For example -- a guide dog for a blind person might come to mind. Dogs can also help those who are wheelchair-bound, by pulling the wheelchair, picking up dropped items, or turning lights on or off. Dogs can provide companionship for those in care facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals.
If all this sounds a little unusual, that's because it is. After all, didn't there used to be signs on the door to keep dogs out of a sanitary place like a hospital? Today, however, there is evidence that the presence of such animals can have a healthy mental influence on residents, and their presence in care homes is expected to become more common. And for those who are handicapped, properly trained dogs can provide practical help in their daily lives -- enabling them to function more effectively and productively.
Until now, there was no service to train such dogs in Kansas or even in the central U.S. And that fact is part of the reason that KSDS came to be.
Bill Acree is a native of Washington, Kansas. He owned and operated a local office supply business there in the 1970s, but on the side, he and his wife became increasingly interested in the concept of canine assistance. They raised puppies under contract for others, and served as volunteers with the 4-H dog project.
In 1989, the Acrees took a busload of 4-Hers and adults to a facility in Ohio where such specialty dogs are trained. Bill met with the managers of the facility and told them of the need for handicapped people back in Kansas to have assistance dogs.
Their response was, "Why don't you move here and come to work for us?" Bill told them he wanted to stay in Kansas, and possibly set up a similar training service in Kansas. Their next response was, "Go raise a quarter-million dollars first. Don't call us -- we'll call you."
It was all quite discouraging. Bill got back on the bus, and he told the other adults: "This makes me mad -- these people simply don't care about the problems in Kansas."
Bill returned to the state with a new determination to prove it could be done. Hours and hours of hard work were devoted to developing plans for this enterprise. Contact was made with the Kansas Secretary of Commerce at the time, Harland Priddle. Some tough questions were asked.
And in the end, the state came through with funds to start the enterprise. In September 1990, Kansas Rehabilitation Services and the Kansas Department of Commerce made the necessary grants. KSDS was underway.
Today, KSDS has graduated its first class of three assistance dogs -- six months ahead of schedule. The dogs have been placed with three wheelchair-bound young people -- and what a difference it has made in their lives. Two of the clients are school-children. With help from the dogs, they are back in school and enjoying more friends than ever before. The third is a young woman in Wichita who is now employed in the private sector. Their stories will tug at your heartstrings.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, Kansas, Bill Acree and his staff are excitedly building for the future. Their goal is to be able to train 100 assistance dogs a year, and make them available at no cost to those who need them.
Bill attributes their success so far to several factors. One is local support. After KSDS demonstrated its business plan and economic benefits to the community, the town of Washington provided financing, access to water, and cooperation with plans for expansion. A local bank had acquired a restaurant that had closed, and made the building available to them at a favorable rate.
Private sector partnership was another key. The Iams pet food company is providing feed for all the dogs free for the working life of the dog. The KSU Veterinary School provides specialized assistance.
The third factor is one especially important in rural areas. It is simply determination. Many government programs may be biased against rural regions. It takes determination to work one's way through the obstacles to reach the goal.
One more point about this story. Bill Acree says that, during this long process, he was asked the question "Why would you locate in Washington, Kansas?" However, it wasn't the state or the private companies that were asking the question -- it was the local people already there.
The point is, sometimes rural people sell themselves short. All too often we don't appreciate the advantages and benefits we have in rural America.
Bill Acree sees these benefits first hand. He's "going to the dogs" in the most positive sense. For the economic growth of his hometown, and in the lives of those less fortunate across the state, he is making a difference.
Here's a trivia question for the day: What county in Kansas showed the most population growth in the 1990 Census, compared to the previous census? The answer can help us understand the impact of the value-added concept. While you think about our trivia question, I'll describe some other population trends from the 1990 Census.
Overall, Kansas had 4.4 percent growth in population, but since our rate of growth was slower than some other states, we are losing one seat in Congress. As we dig deeper into the facts about our growth rate, we find some very interesting patterns.
According to the Bureau of the Census, there are nine metropolitan counties in Kansas. Those are clustered around two cities: Wichita and Kansas City. These nine counties experienced 10 percent growth during the decade. Of the remaining counties, those with 10,000 or more in population might be called mid-size counties. There are 35 of these, and they held their own -- losing less than one percent of population. The remaining 61 most rural counties in Kansas lost 8.6 percent during that same time.
In general, then, rural counties lost more than eight percent in population while metro counties gained 10 percent. Those are the averages. But averages tell only part of the story.
It's like the story of the two economists out duck-hunting. A lone duck flew overhead. One economist shot high and the other shot low. As the duck quacked off into the distance, one economist said to the other: "On average, that duck is dead."....
Averages tell only part of the story. Statewide averages mask the population shifts within individual counties. For example, Johnson County by itself gained more than 30 percent in population during that same time. And Jewell County, up on the Nebraska border, lost 18.9 percent in population.
Roughly speaking, that's nearly a fifth of the population which was lost in a single decade in that county. Other rural counties had population loss that was almost as great. These demographic shifts depict the great challenges facing rural Kansas.
But what about the answer to our trivia question? Which county in Kansas showed the greatest population growth in the 1990 Census?
The answer might surprise you. The fastest growing county wasn't Sedgwick, with Wichita in it, or even Johnson County, near Kansas City. The fastest growing county was Finney County, where Garden City is the county seat. Finney County is, in most respects, a rural, agricultural county, yet it experienced 38 percent growth during the 1980s.
The reason for this remarkable growth is a good four-letter word: Beef. The expansion of the beef-packing industry in southwest Kansas created a host of new jobs, and led to an influx of population. The result was the fastest population growth in the state.
However, one shouldn't interpret this to mean that times are easy in Finney County. For one thing, the jobs in the beef-packing plants are very demanding and there is typically high turnover in those positions. Secondly, the dramatic growth has largely stabilized since the early 1980s, and leveled off. Third, the industry is dependent on groundwater supplies, which make possible the irrigated production of feed grains to feed the livestock which provide the beef. What happens when that water is depleted? And finally, the influx of population included very diverse cultures new to the region, such as southeast Asian. The adjustment to multi-cultural diversity provides special challenges.
Even with these caveats, Finney County deserves great credit for the accomplishments and growth experienced there. This success shows the great worth of the value-added concept. "Value-added" means the processing of a raw commodity into a higher-value, more finished product, thus creating jobs. It means making wheat into flour, for example. It means making fruit into jams and jellies. In Garden City, it means making steers into steaks. The results have been more income and more jobs in rural Kansas.
In various ways, large and small, value-added processing can be a key part of rural economic development in Kansas. These strategies can make a difference in the demographic patterns -- and help determine whether or not Kansas counties experience growth in the future.
Next time, we'll look at one Kansas entrepreneur who is making such a difference.
Today we'll look at a rural entrepreneur who is putting the value-added concept to work.
Lee Reeve's ancestors started ranching in the Kansas plains in 1882. Great-great-great-grandpa would be amazed at what he would see there today.
Garden City, in the southwest part of the state, is the buckle of the beef belt, with one of the world's largest beef processing plants. Nearby, more than a million head of cattle eat scientific rations in large feedlots.
Southwest Kansas is a long way from urban areas. It is so far from the state capitol and so disgusted with state taxation that in an April 1992 vote, a proposal to secede from the state was approved overwhelmingly! Yet this rural, agricultural area was the fastest growing part of the state in the 1980s. Finney County, of which Garden City is the county seat, grew 38 percent in the decade -- faster than Wichita or Kansas City.
"The growth is almost totally due to the beef-packing industry," says Lee Reeve. "It is the epitome of the value-added concept." Value-added means the processing of a raw commodity into a higher-value, more finished product, thus creating jobs.
Originally, the Garden City area was arid pastureland. Then dryland wheat came into production. Several decades ago, as irrigation became more widespread, the area produced feed grains which were shipped elsewhere for livestock feed. Then, innovative entrepreneurs saw the potential benefits of keeping the grain locally and adding value by feeding it to beef cattle. Cattle feedyards were established. When the cattle reached optimum weight, they were shipped to packing plants elsewhere.
Next, entrepreneurs recognized the potential benefits of having the beef processed locally. This would also help the processing companies, since they would be close to the cattle. When the packers recognized these advantages, the big boom came. Several state-of-the-art processing facilities were built in the southwest Kansas region, and the largest plant in the world was built in Garden City.
This brought a huge increase in jobs, attracting workers from all over. "In 1985, I heard a local school superintendent say that we had students speaking 22 different languages in the school system," Reeve remembers. Today, unemployment in Garden City is remarkably low. "Anybody who wants a job can get a job," Reeve says.
This growth happened for several reasons. One major factor was research work done at Kansas State University on irrigation, feed grains, and feedlot cattle production. Another major factor was the vision and innovation of entrepreneurs and innovators, such as Earl Brookover. Lee Reeve himself is a modern-day example. After attending Kansas State University, he returned to the family farming operation and has diversified it. Like others in the region, he farms and runs a large cattle feedlot. But that's not all.
In 1982, the family began operating a 2.5 million gallon fuel ethanol plant. Ethanol is made from grain and sold as an octane enhancer; the byproduct is fed to cattle. The cattle waste is spread on the cropland as fertilizer. And the water that is naturally heated by the fermentation/distillation process is the right temperature for raising fish for market.
Only a true entrepreneur would be raising fish alongside of beef in the heart of cattle country. It gives new meaning to the term "surf and turf"! It is a remarkable circular system, developed by an entrepreneur with a vision for new opportunities.
One opportunity is the application of the value-added principle in new ways in other agriculturally-based communities. "We need alternative crops and alternative uses of crops," says Reeve. For example, corn or wheat are excellent sources of starch which can serve as a plastic substitute. "Hospitals are using bags made out of cornstarch to hold laundry that's dirty or infected," Reeve says. The hospital crew can then toss the entire bag into a washing machine and the cornstarch bag will dissolve in the wash -- and even give the fabrics a little natural starch in the process! "There's also a company making biodegradable golf tees out of starch polymers," Reeve says. "If you break the golf tee, or lose one, no problem."
Farmers could also grow other crops such as canola or rapeseed which can be crushed to produce oil or fiber. "Canola is the darling of the cooking oils," Reeve says. "It can also replace high quality, industrial lubricants that we're currently importing."
Kenaf is another alternative crop. It is a fast-growing, low water-use fiber plant which can be used in making newsprint. Reeve suggests the government should allow and encourage farmers to raise more of these alternative crops on cropland otherwise idled under government programs.
The magnitude of Garden City's growth may not be duplicated elsewhere, but Reeve believes the principles of value-added entrepreneurship can apply.
"Too many people think economic development means writing another letter to the Japanese inviting them to build a Toyota plant here because we have a nice city park. That's not the way to do it. Look at what your community realistically has to offer. You're a lot better off to create some industrialization from within."
And that's the formula which agricultural entrepreneur Lee Reeve is using to make a difference in rural Kansas.
Someone has said that rural businesses are like fresh vegetables: you may get them from somewhere else, but you might be better off to grow your own. That principle is important in these times, when rural businesses face many challenges.
Today we'll look at someone who helped make a business go. The business is located in the western part of Wyandotte County.
Marc Minear is an entrepreneur who has helped turn a business around. He knows first-hand what it's like to strengthen a struggling business. He and his co-owners have faced several challenges in connection with their retail enterprise.
The first step was preparing a business plan to use to acquire their loan for the business start-up. Marc said that their lender didn't take them very seriously at first, but a well-prepared business plan made a big difference. The loan was acquired and the retail business began.
Times were tough, however. The business lost money the first year. Marc and his co-owners used some innovative marketing techniques in the second year, involving their customers in helping determine certain features about their product line. The second year was quite successful. The business made money.
Another challenge came when Marc and his co-owners needed additional capital. Rather than going further into debt, they had the idea of selling stock in the business. This idea succeeded also. They sold stock. Today they're paying dividends to the stockholders based on the company's performance.
Marc Minear has played a key role in this company's turnaround. But Marc had other things on his mind also. For example, there was homework, plus the upcoming baseball game. And then there was the matter of getting ready to graduate from high school.
Yes, Marc Minear is no ordinary rural businessman. He is an entrepreneur -- and he's also a high school senior.
Jim Banister is a business education teacher at Piper High School in rural Wyandotte county. He has been teaching units on entrepreneurship. As a class project, and with the help of Fred Rice in the College of Business at Kansas State University, he encouraged his students to set up a business of their own.
The Piper school is not located downtown or in a highly developed area -- it's outside of the city where there aren't nearby private stores to sell routine school items to students. That created a market opportunity.
Marc Minear and other students in the class proposed to set up a school store, which would sell snacks and supplies - such as paper and pencils - to students and teachers at the school. But just like older entrepreneurs, they needed financial backing first. And to get that required a comprehensive business plan.
Marc and his co-owners prepared such a plan, with help from their teacher. The lender they took it to was the school district, and the loan committee - so to speak - was the school board.
The school board didn't take this whole project too seriously at the beginning, but they came through with funds after hearing the business plan. Costs were high the first year, in getting organized and acquiring supplies. The company decided to sell T-shirts, and had to bear the up-front cost of developing a design. These costs contributed to a negative bottom line.
For the second year, the business got more customer input: Specifically, they asked students to vote on several T-shirt designs, and the winning design was placed on the T-shirts to be sold.
All this was a class project. The stock certificates, for example, were not real. But the money raised and the products sold were very real -- and so were the lessons learned for this Kansas entrepreneur.
More rural schools should encourage the Marc Minears of the world to give entrepreneurship a try. Recruiting outside businesses to our rural communities is important, but we should also develop the business opportunities already there. By encouraging entrepreneurs like Marc Minear, and teachers like Jim Banister, we can grow our own for the future of rural America.
B. J. Smart
Today we'll start by talking about the dreaded C-word. That C-word is consolidation -- with a capital C. When someone talks about consolidation of rural schools or counties or local governments, those are fighting words. These institutions are very important to us in rural America. It seems unspeakable to talk about consolidation, so someone has referred to it as the C-word.
But there is another set of C-words which we think can offer much benefit to rural Kansas. These include cooperation, clustering, collaboration. They all mean people working together to help each other.
One year ago, the Southwestern Bell Foundation made a grant to the Huck Boyd Foundation for a study of regional economic development through cooperation. The Huck Boyd Institute worked on that study, and the printed report will soon be available.
The study highlighted cooperative efforts now underway in rural Kansas. Over the next several weeks, our program will intermittently look at some of these Kansas examples, and today is the first.
Can twelve towns in a single county cooperate to promote economic development? In Washington County, they are doing so.
"Shape Your Own Destiny." That statement would be an excellent motto anywhere in rural Kansas, and it was the theme of a series of five area meetings held recently in Washington County under the leadership of B. J. Smart.
B. J. is the director of economic development for Washington County. Her county-wide economic development effort is funded by a 1/2 mill levy. She works at promoting economic development throughout the county.
Her development work takes in a variety of activities, from hosting an industrial tour to maintaining a job bank. It includes hosting "Fam-tours," which familiarize travel specialists with attractions in the area. Her job also includes "Washington County Day at the Mall," which sounds like a credit card frenzy but is actually a time to display local crafts and talent at a shopping center in Manhattan.
There are twelve incorporated towns in the county. Starting in June each year, they gear up for the annual "Twelve Villages of Christmas" celebration. It is promoted throughout the region, and each community develops its own displays. By pooling efforts, the attraction to outside visitors is greater. Each community is more likely to be visited by people who would otherwise not be in the region, were it not for the county-wide activity and promotion.
It is an excellent example of the benefits of cooperation. B.J. gives credit for success to the volunteers in those communities. "Without volunteers, our county could not function," B.J. says. The keys to making cooperation work are to praise and appreciate those who help on projects, says B.J., and to involve others in the decision-making process.
Cooperation works on a larger scale also. B. J. is involved in a number of multi-county efforts. B.J. chairs the board of the Kansas Center for Rural Initiatives at KSU.
She is also involved in the 12-county North Central Kansas Tourism Council and the seven-county ACE-SCORE group. ACE and SCORE may sound like a bridge club, but they are actually organizations of retired businesspersons who provide free consulting for SBA business loan borrowers. ACE stands for Active Corps of Executives, and SCORE stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives. Their cooperation makes this additional resource available on a seven-county basis.
"I'm a firm believer that counties can work together. It's a growing process, but with everyone's efforts, it can be a possibility," B.J. says. That's what it takes, and that's how cooperation is making a difference in rural Kansas.
Today we'll look to southeast Kansas to learn what benefits might result from cooperation in rural regions. How about saving 5 million dollars, for starters? That number got my attention. It is one estimate of the amount which could be saved through joint purchasing of natural gas for municipal facilities. Robert Walker, city manager of Chanute, has been working on a possible project for such joint purchasing among 30 cities, and he calculates this project could have multi-million dollar benefits.
Typically, the impact of cooperation is not so dramatic, but even if not measured in dollars and cents, it can have a significant benefit over time.
Such regional development faces one big question: Is a county willing to spend its money outside its own borders to benefit the region? The answer can be yes, if county leaders can identify that such regional expenditures will bring a good return to their own county in the long term.
One example is a recent cooperative highway project for southeast Kansas. Highway 169 is being improved because people perceived the benefits throughout the region.
City manager Walker says, "Eight cities and five counties put their money on the line to match state funds for an enhancement project that will result in construction primarily in Allen and Anderson counties. Ten years ago, I doubt if you could have gotten the counties and cities together to even talk to each other about that, let alone sign off on pledging their own money to support such a project. We all came together because we perceive it is in our interest to do so."
Walker goes on: "We all need a good highway system. The weakest part of that highway affects all of us. If we can come together to improve that for our respective communities, even though we might not see the concrete at the edge of our town, we'll all benefit from it." That is a forward-looking view.
Another example of regional cooperation is found in the Community Strategic Planning Program offered by the state of Kansas. The Legislature authorized this program two years ago to provide funds to counties or multi-county groups for the development of a strategic plan for these counties.
An individual town cannot qualify. It must be at least a county-wide group, which has encouraged cooperation within counties. And in southeast Kansas, the first-ever three-county planning grant was made. The application was a joint project of Allen, Coffey, and Woodson counties.
Each county put together a broad-based committee of 35-40 persons from different walks of life. Surveys of county residents were taken. Meetings to get input were held in each incorporated town in the county. Then a three-county steering committee was formed, meeting quarterly. Coffey County engineer Harry Hunsley is the chair of the three-county group.
Hunsley says, "The objective of this thing is to develop a plan of action that would let us utilize joint resources that we have and achieve a shared benefit on a regional, as well as a local, level. I think we're going to accomplish that."
With help from the KSU Extension Service, the committees identified assets and shortcomings. Issues identified in the tri-county area were 1) tourism, 2) quality of life, and 3) industrial development and employment. Areas of additional need are regional sanitary landfills, regional industrial waste sites, and regional 911.
For such collaborations to work, an attitude of cooperation is essential. Dudley Feuerborn, an Anderson County commissioner, sees this first-hand.
"The two key words are cooperation and change," says Feuerborn. "My mother grew up in a community in Anderson County north of Garnett. When people go back, there's nothing there but a cemetery. Why did that community not prosper? Maybe because they didn't accept change."
And he goes on to say: "Small communities don't die. They commit suicide."
Dudley Feuerborn sees cooperation as a way for rural communities to help themselves by adjusting to change.
For example, when reappraisal became a major issue, Anderson and Allen counties jointly hired a single company to perform the function for both counties. "It was very satisfactory," Feuerborn says.
Cooperation also works on a regional basis. Multi-county efforts in which Anderson County is involved include the 12-county Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission, a 5-county health department, a 6-county resource conservation and development district, and the southeast Kansas district for juvenile detention.
"I believe strongly in the quality of life in rural America," says Feuerborn. "Mandated consolidation would not be accepted. We have to cooperate and work together and unify to have strength and to prosper and to be ahead of change. To be successful, cooperation among leaders is an absolute necessity."
That's the type of cooperation that can make a difference if we will make it work, not only in southeast Kansas but across rural America.
1992 is an election year. The political candidates are spending millions on their media advertising, and political analysts are worrying that government is "out of touch" with the people.
Maybe that's so in New York or LA. But come with me to Shelly's Restaurant in Ulysses, Kansas, and you'll find a government that is in touch with the people. There each month you'll find the county commissioners having lunch with the city council and the mayor. This luncheon doesn't take place in some secluded room -- it's right there at an open table where anyone can sit in.
You don't have to present testimony. You don't have to hire a lobbyist. You just have to walk over and sit down at the table.
Not only is this a good example of encouraging citizen access, it's also a positive model of governments working together. The Huck Boyd Institute's recent study on county cooperation, which was funded by Southwestern Bell, makes the point that cooperation starts with communication. With the leaders of the city and county meeting together on a regular basis, good communication is fostered.
Paula Shapland, the Ulysses city clerk, says there are several joint projects now working in their area. There is a joint city-county landfill there, for example, and a jointly funded law enforcement center. That doesn't mean that the law enforcement services have merged, but the county sheriff is also the city chief of police and he oversees two different units. Such joint management can save significant funds and encourage consistent administration.
The city and county are also jointly funding, along with the state, something called a "corridor improvement project." That may sound like cleaning the hallway outside your little boy's room, but it is actually an effort to upgrade the highways in the area. A county road is involved along with the city streets, so good communication and joint participation between city and county is a must.
Ulysses is taking other steps to encourage citizen involvement. After a planning session this spring, the city council decided to initiate a program of inviting citizens to a regular council meeting each month. Ten households are randomly selected each month and invited by letter to attend the meeting. If they RSVP back, an entire packet of information is sent to them in advance of the meeting.
Imagine that. You receive a letter from the city, and it's not a tax bill, a rate increase, or a new regulation -- it's simply an invitation to sit in on and participate in a regular city council meeting. It's hard to conceive of that happening in New York City or Chicago.
Perhaps the most famous event in Grant County, however, occurs each year on the third Tuesday of September. I'm talking about the Grant County Home Products dinner. Talk about growing your own! This event consists of a dinner where all the food is grown and prepared in the county. The menu includes roast beef, corn, scalloped potatoes, cole slaw, baked pinto beans, candied sweet squash, whole wheat rolls -- excuse me, my mouth is watering -- cherry tomatoes, bread, watermelon, caramel popcorn, strawberry preserves, and something unique -- milo doughnuts.
Yes, I said milo doughnuts. As one who has driven a combine during milo harvest, I have unintentionally eaten some milo dust in my day -- and if they can make that itchy stuff into a tasty doughnut, they must really be good cooks.
And apparently they are. The event has grown over the years and attracted statewide attention. Paula Shapland says it started as a community dinner, and now it's turned into a community promotion. All this requires a lot of cooperation. The Chamber of Commerce has established a committee that works on the dinner year-round.
And how much money does the city put into it? Not a penny. Farmers donate the produce and private, voluntary organizations, such as service clubs and sororities, prepare and cook the food. Gas and oil companies contribute funding. The evening program includes entertainment as well.
Tickets are sold for the dinner. Money that is raised goes into the Grant County scholarship fund, which can be used by young people in the county to attend college.
It is important to support young people in our communities and get them involved in a variety of ways. Paula Shapland herself went to school in Ulysses and went on to college. Although her scholarship wasn't from the Home Products dinner, the point is the same -- we need to support our young people, and in doing so we may have a chance to bring them back to our rural communities. And now, Paula is the city clerk.
Last year the Home Products dinner raised $5,000 for the scholarship fund, and the dinner has attracted as many as 2,200 people. That's a big deal in a town of 5500.
And a crowd like that is bound to attract the politicians, which brings us back to where we started. This grass-roots contact is part of what makes rural America great. Through the cooperative efforts and community pride of the Paula Shaplands and others, these local leaders are making a difference in rural Kansas.
Welcome to the Hotel Josephine. Step in through the front door, and admire what you see.
Look at the old-time furniture and the classic art on the walls. In the corner, there's a box grand piano, made in the 1880s. And there's a spittoon by the old wooden chair. The hotel register is dated 1890.
Let's step down the hall. In this room, there's a solid wood bedset. There on the night stand is the remote control for the cable television, and around the corner in the kitchenette is the microwave oven.
Now, as the saying goes, what's wrong with this picture? Sure enough, something didn't quite fit. In this 1890s hotel that I was describing, we suddenly find the technology of the 1990s. This blend is part of the success of the Hotel Josephine.
Don't look for the Hotel Josephine in Kansas City, or New York, or Boston. The Hotel Josephine is in Holton, Kansas, a town of 3,196 people located in Jackson County, 26 miles north of Topeka. There you will find a restored and modern Victorian hotel.
George and Marjorie Gantz are the proprietors of the Hotel Josephine. They are natives of the Holton area who moved away. George's career with General Electric took him away from Holton for 40 years. Now he and Marjorie have returned, and they are making a real contribution to enhancing their community.
George combines a community spirit with the attitude of an entrepreneur. He saw the need for the community to have a focal point, and saw the potential in the city's historic past. The Hotel Josephine is part of that history.
The hotel was named in honor of the builder's 9-month-old daughter, Josephine. Her 1908 high school graduation picture now hangs in the lobby.
The hotel opened for business on January 19, 1890. Sure enough, the very first guest register is on display in the front lobby, along with the box grand and spittoon. Those were the days when several railroad trains a day stopped in Holton, and the guests included boxer John L. Sullivan, future vice-president Charles Curtis, and Grover Cleveland (between his presidential terms.) Other guests included Sam Rayburn and Carrie Nation, and recently Kirsty Alley of TV's "Cheers" fame.
The Hotel Josephine has operated continuously since 1890, but under different owners and different names. When the Gantz's took ownership four years ago, it was decorated in 1960s vintage. The Gantz's restored the original name and the Victorian interior design. At the same time, the hotel includes the modern conveniences of technology.
"We try to create an atmosphere of a 'home away from home,'" says George Gantz. They cater to tourists and construction crews, and they get lots of hunters in the fall. It also makes a nice getaway for families. Many tours of the hotel are conducted daily.
To me, all this is an example of an entrepreneur responding to the market opportunities of today.
A current trend is that many Americans are increasingly interested in our history, and in getting in touch with our past. We appreciate and want to enjoy these classic things of our ancestors.
Yet we want to do so while enjoying the modern conveniences of the present -- especially if we have kids! They don't want to do without the convenience of the microwave oven and the TV remote control. So an enterprise such as this, which offers both the history and the modern conveniences, is an excellent effort to respond to these trends. In doing so, George and Marjorie Gantz are making a difference in their community.
As we leave the Hotel Josephine, we find that there's one thing that George likes talking about even more than the hotel. And we'll talk about that next time.
George Gantz had a 40-year career in business. During that time, he and his wife Marjorie lived in several major cities ranging from Boston to Seattle. When the time came to retire, he and Marjorie had a decision to make. Where to settle down? They made the decision. They chose rural Kansas.
Actually, it was a homecoming. George and Marjorie are natives of the Holton area, and after four decades away, it was back to Holton where they decided to retire. With the perspective of coming home again after 40 years in other places, they had a new appreciation for the good things about their hometown -- and some ideas on how it could be even better. They also had a determination to overcome the many obstacles in the way of their vision.
George and Marjorie bought the historic hotel in the town and restored it to its original Victorian design. But George saw the hotel as a resource for the community, not just an enterprise for him and Marjorie.
George felt such history could be a focal point for the community. His community spirit is very strong.
"I work on the hotel six months, and then I work on the town six months," George says.
When he and Marjorie came back to town, they noticed the downtown sidewalks were in disrepair. The downtown was having a hard time. Part of the reason was that Highway 75 goes west of the city and misses downtown. A bright new sign was constructed on Highway 75 to notify travelers of the downtown district.
But the problem remained: what to do about repairing those sidewalks? There were those who thought it couldn't be done, or felt there was no point in repairing them. But on June 12, 1992, the City of Holton celebrated the successful conclusion of phase one of the brand new sidewalks.
Here is how it happened. George Gantz and others in the community had a vision of a new streetscape for downtown.
But as George says, "If you told the same thing to ten different people, they would come away with ten different versions." In an effort to develop a single visual image that the entire community could rally around, George contacted an artist to draft a sketch of a new streetscape. It included new brick sidewalks, vintage light posts, and old-time park benches.
In order to pay for all this, they proposed a "heritage walk." For a $35 donation, a person could have a brick engraved with his name or some other message.
The sketch was shown to the Chamber of Commerce, city and county, service clubs, and anyone who would listen to George. The bricks were promoted to high school alumni and others.
In the first year of fund raising, more than $50,000 has been raised. In the past two months alone, nearly 4 thousand dollars in bricks have been sold. The new design on the south side of the square is now complete. On June 12, the community celebration was held in honor of the completion of this phase of the project. It included street dancing, bluegrass music, games for the kids, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Here's a measure of participation: Organizers had ordered 800 hot dogs. By the end of the day, more than 1,400 franks had been served, consuming every bun in town and lots of bread! Now that's a measuring stick anyone can grasp.
It's a sign of the community spirit that can emerge in a rural community. But so often, that spirit needs someone with a vision to help it develop into reality.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the community celebration, the mayor of Holton presented a special award to someone for his dedication to the heritage walk project; someone who, he said, didn't know the meaning of the word "no" when it came to overcoming the obstacles to the project. That person is George Gantz.
Meanwhile, brick sales continue in hopes of putting in phase 2, a new streetscape on the west side of the downtown square. And George's latest idea is refurbishing the abandoned 21 acre park and lake on the north side of Holton.
It's a trademark of someone who is making a difference in rural Kansas.
Today let's talk about the "Saturday night syndrome." That might sound like a cheap handgun or something that gives you a hangover on Sunday morning, but in this case we're talking about a term that relates to rural development.
Someone has used the term "Saturday night syndrome" to describe the rivalries which sometimes exist between rural communities. For example, a community may be saying, in effect, "Since the team from the school in your town beat the team from the school in my town last Saturday night -- and probably unfairly, I might add -- then I'm mad at your town. I certainly wouldn't think of helping your town...." And your town feels the same way about mine.
Now, in my view, high school athletics and healthy rivalries are a lot of fun. They are good exercise and learning experiences for the kids. They give a small town something to rally around. They create an identity for adults in the community which can be especially important in rural areas.
But when the rivalry goes too far -- when the "Saturday night syndrome" gets out of hand -- communities can miss some real opportunities to work together in a mutually beneficial way.
Some time ago, we set out to do a study of cooperative ventures which rural communities could pursue to work together more effectively, share services, and save money. The study was sponsored by Southwestern Bell, and the report from that study will be produced in upcoming weeks.
One excellent example of multi-county cooperation was identified early on. It was the cooperation between Rice and Ellsworth counties.
These two central Kansas counties are in two different highway districts and two different economic development districts, yet they are next door neighbors. They have a lot in common.
In 1990, the Kansas legislature approved a state strategic planning grant program. The program is offered through the Kansas Department of Commerce. A meeting on the new program was held in Hays.
Karl Gaston was one of those who attended. Karl is a publisher in Ellsworth. He publishes the Ellsworth Reporter and Kansas Works, a monthly journal of the Kansas economy. Karl was asked to attend on behalf of Ellsworth County.
After hearing about the program, Ellsworth and Rice counties got together to apply jointly. And they were successful. They jointly received a grant, and they began the grass-roots process of strategic planning.
With help from Kansas State University faculty through the Kansas Center for Rural Initiatives, the two counties discussed key issues. Task forces were formed. Local meetings were held throughout the counties. Surveys of local citizens were conducted. A strategic plan was then developed, which identified three key areas of work: economic development, tourism, and intergovernmental cooperation.
Karl Gaston is a believer in these joint efforts, such as in tourism.
"If we can pull them in to our area, there are things in both counties that will benefit," Gaston says. "For years we've talked about a cooperative effort to bring people in from I-70." This could involve special tours, billboards, or brochures.
As an example of joint action, the two counties set up a joint tourism booth at the state fair. They promoted the historical and recreational attractions in the two counties, such as land of Quivira, Santa Fe trail, General Custer's camp at old Fort Harker, and Buffalo Bill's well.
By pooling their efforts, the two counties had more attractions to talk about and more resources to do it with. About 25 or 30 people helped man the booth. "It worked really well," Gaston says. "It should probably be expanded to 5 or 10 counties."
In terms of economic development, there are already several regional private sector organizations at work. The 14-county South Central Kansas Economic Development District and nine-county North Central Regional Planning Commission promote economic development with counties in their respective regions.
Joint efforts can have several potential benefits for private business. Karl Gaston says, "We've talked about a cooperative health insurance program among industries in the two counties. If we get 500-600 employees together, we could get a real good rate for the people."
These are examples where there is no need for competition among the communities. Working together can have benefits for both of them.
All this brings us back to the "Saturday night syndrome." Perhaps we can keep our old school rivalries in perspective if we think about those young athletes competing against each other. When the final gun or the last buzzer sounds and the game is over, they shake hands with their former opponents. It's a demonstration of good sportsmanship which can symbolize the new era of cooperation that is needed in rural Kansas.
It's happening in Rice and Ellsworth counties, through the work of Karl Gaston and others. This new spirit of cooperation is making a difference in rural Kansas.
"Even if nothing else came out of it," Gaston says, "there was one factor which resulted from the strategic planning process which made it all worthwhile." And we'll hear about that next time.
Think about a barn-raising in the early years of Kansas. The neighbors got together to build a barn. The men built together, the women cooked together, and the project got done in a way that would have been next-to-impossible for them to do individually.
That old spirit of cooperation has found new life in rural Kansas. Like the pioneers, county leaders are finding the benefits of helping each other.
That was an element of the recent study of county cooperation in Kansas conducted by the Huck Boyd Institute, with funding by Southwestern Bell. Two counties which were identified early in the study for their excellent cooperative efforts were Ellsworth and Rice counties.
Pete Dalabal is a county commissioner in Ellsworth County. "We thought there might be something to be gained by cooperation," Dalabal says. Ellsworth County and Rice County jointly applied for and were awarded a state strategic planning grant. Such cooperation is progressing very well in these two counties of central Kansas.
"We decided we would have meetings with commissioners in both counties on a periodic basis to see what areas we might be able to cooperate in and make our dollars stretch a little farther," Dalabal says.
This builds on the intergovernmental cooperation that had already occurred within Ellsworth County. For example, a few years ago the senior citizens in Ellsworth purchased a tract of land at a convenient location in town for a new facility for their center. Unfortunately, an old, falling-down building was located on it.
Dalabal says, "The county cooperated with the city and we tore that old building down. With funds from the agency and a lot of volunteer labor, they've got a real nice facility there now."
The county has also assisted in relocating the city airport's runway when it had to be moved due to the new prison. Townships have been assisted by the county doing work for them on a cost basis.
"Down the line we might be able to hire a joint county engineer that is actually a registered engineer," Dalabal says. "We have what we call a road supervisor and that's been pretty effective. But, there comes a time when it gets to be pretty sophisticated and we may need an engineer's services." A joint county administrator could even be a possibility.
Meanwhile, what is the perspective from the other county? One Rice County commissioner put it this way: "We want to get on with cooperation, not mandatory consolidation. We are meeting with the Ellsworth County commissioners on a quarterly basis." The county road supervisors have shared equipment and ideas for years, and commissioners now meet together regularly. Joint hauling of road materials is a possibility. If Ellsworth needs to come to Rice County to buy sand
and Rice County needs to go to Ellsworth County to buy rock, couldn't the same truck take the material as it goes each way?
Both counties are working on an enhanced 911 emergency response system. The necessary equipment is costly, but each county would get a 10 percent discount if both would buy the equipment. Spare parts for this system are costly too. A spare parts kit costs $9,500. The spare parts wouldn't be needed frequently, yet a county dares not be without them. A good solution is for the two counties to jointly buy one kit, and save each county half the cost.
Part of the enhanced 911 system involves mapping the county and identifying homes so that emergency vehicles can reach them quickly. The Rice County ambulance director worked on this process for his county, and now is going to help Ellsworth County. Not only will this save an estimated $10,000, it will mean that the system is consistent if the emergency vehicle would ever need to cross a county line.
Sharing ideas can sometimes be as important as sharing the services or the equipment. Many counties have a "buddy county" with whom they communicate. Rice County would have spent $7,000 for a sign machine until checking with a neighboring county that had one frequently idle.
There are numerous examples of cooperation among towns also. For one, the city of Ellsworth worked out a rental agreement with the city of Wilson to share their $70,000 streetsweeper. They truck it over there four times a year to sweep their streets. That will meet their needs and save them spending $25,000 for a used piece of equipment.
By themselves, these last four examples of cooperative efforts saved more than $40,000 in taxpayer's money.
But if we're talking about costs, the big one coming down the pike is this: solid waste management. Disposal of solid waste and future maintenance of landfills can be very costly. New federal solid waste regulations establish very high standards, and the cost of compliance will be significant. One source says the cost will be greater than any single county's ability to pay. That means citizens will either have no service, or joint landfills among several counties.
As an example of the potential expenditures, the estimated cost of a new landfill liner -- just one item in the system -- is more than $100,000. Currently, Rice County's budget for the entire landfill is $60,000. In other words, the cost of replacing that single item is greater than the entire current budget for the landfill! Cooperation may offer the best alternative for dealing with such costs.
Pete Dalabal and other leaders in Rice and Ellsworth counties are seeing where cooperation may be of benefit. As one local citizen said of the joint strategic planning process, even if nothing else came out of it, the cooperation between Rice and Ellsworth county commissioners has been beneficial.
That's the type of cooperation that those early Kansas pioneers would be proud of. They're not building a barn -- they're building a better future. Such cooperation is making a difference in rural Kansas today.
Picture a man standing out in the rain....That could be a scene from the summer of 1992 in Kansas!....The man is wet, and all by himself. But also in the scene is a group of men and women standing together and holding up a big umbrella which covers all of them. This group is warm and dry and happy.
Do you have the mental image? The slogan with this picture says, "Standing Alone....Outstanding Together." By himself, the man had no protection, but all together, the group could make an outstanding effort. Standing alone....Outstanding together.
That theme and design was part of an award-winning display produced by the Hillsboro Development Corporation about the Marion County Economic Development Council. It capsulizes the benefits of coming together...It suggests that outstanding things can be accomplished when we stand with and support each other.
Such a cooperative effort is a key part of the success of Hillsboro.
Local leadership makes a huge difference. A key local leader in the Hillsboro region is one Carol Wiebe. This is her story.
Carol didn't necessarily have an auspicious beginning in Hillsboro, Kansas. She came there with her husband and three baby boys in diapers. That would be a handful by itself -- but on top of that, the three boys had the measles!
If Mom can handle that, she can handle most anything...and sure enough, over time Carol and her family made their mark on the community. Her husband became mayor, and served 20 years. Ten years ago, Carol became director of the Hillsboro Development Corporation.
The corporation is involved in many economic development activities, including the traditional recruitment and support of local businesses. But there are also some out-of-the-ordinary things that come along every once in a while.
For example...Rural Kansas is renowned for its good food, and rightly so. In March 1992, some rural Kansas foods found their way to an interesting place.
The location was Washington, DC, the consumers were 30 United States Senators, and the menu consisted of food from Hillsboro.
Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum requested the food. She hosted the luncheon, and Carol rounded up the food. It was a collection of authentic Dutch-German ethnic dishes, shipped to Washington by air freight, overnight express. Hillsboro sausage was prepared by Senate chefs and served with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, baked apples, peppernuts, honey, rye bread and zwieback.
I hope this is all "brain food," if it was served to a bunch of Senators....Maybe it will improve things in Washington!
The point is that Hillsboro received this national recognition, because people there were ready to take advantage when the opportunity came. There are 600 other communities in Kansas which could have been called, but in this case, Hillsboro got the call because local people had already built a capacity to respond. There was an economic development and promotion organization already created, and a designated person to take responsibility for it.
Carol Wiebe is that person. And when Senator Kassebaum wanted genuine Kansas food, she knew there was a person and a place to which she could go to get it.
It is important for rural counties to develop a capacity like this, to organize and prepare themselves for such opportunities, and to identify and support these leaders.
One last example from Hillsboro: 24 years ago, a group of local women were having coffee together and thinking about how to encourage cultural enrichment. They decided to form an association to do so, and the association sponsored holiday home tours and worked with Tabor College on special events. The group also sponsored an arts and crafts show. It became an annual event.
And today, the Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Association's Fair has become a phenomenon. Last year more than 35,000 people attended the show -- more than ten times the 3,000 population of Hillsboro itself.
One of the women who originally had coffee together and founded the arts and crafts association is Carol Wiebe. Deena Hawkins, the current fair's director, is now 70 years old and going strong. That's real commitment.
The event attracts 400 exhibitors from 16 states. Last year one got in position to enter the display area at 2:30 a.m. And you can understand why. The exhibitors sold more than half a million dollars worth of arts and crafts, and the community sold approximately $60,000 worth of food and drinks to the visitors.
This year's event will be Saturday, September 19. Carol Wiebe says it requires a tremendous amount of effort and cooperation among countless volunteers in the community to pull off an event like this.
She's right. That's what it takes. Standing alone, it wouldn't be possible, but Carol and her colleagues are outstanding together. The result is making a difference in rural Kansas. Standing alone....Outstanding together.
Phil & Grace Springer
When I go to the hardware store, I'm thinking about hardware -- hammers, wrenches, power tools. Don't you? But when you go to Springer True Value Hardware store in Onaga, Kansas, you see a couple of interesting signs by the door that don't have anything to do with hardware.
One says "UPS" -- there's a UPS parcel pick-up there every day. And the other says "Dry cleaning" -- you can leave your dry cleaning there, and it will be taken out to be cleaned and returned.
All this doesn't sound like the "bucket of nails" you would expect to find in a traditional hardware store, but it's an example of the ingenuity and community service at work in rural America. This store is run by Grace Springer and her husband Phil. They are very much oriented to serving their community.
By serving as a single UPS pick-up point, they can save the local people a full pick-up charge on outgoing packages. As for dry cleaning, there is no dry cleaner in the city of Onaga, so it is a good service to collect cleaning there and take it to the cleaners in Holton. In fact, you can get your scissors sharpened at Springer's hardware store too.
Here is the story of the Springers and what they do for their rural community.
When Grace was six years old, her family moved to Duluth, Kansas, so her father could be the Lutheran minister there. Duluth is just five miles from Onaga. I don't know the official population, but it sounds like compared to Duluth, Onaga looks like Chicago.
Grace's family lived there until she was 13, and the family moved on. Grace grew up and met and married Phil Springer. Phil was an Air Force fighter pilot. His 26-year career took him to Alaska, Thailand, England, and a number of locations around the U.S. Phil even flew missions over Vietnam.
In 1976, Grace was back in Kansas for a visit. While coming through Duluth, she happened to spot an old stone house for sale. To make a long story short, Grace and Phil ended up buying that house, remodeling it, and returning there to live when Phil retired from the Air Force in 1980.
Grace says, "For 26 years we'd been living wherever his career took us. Now we were going to live where I wanted to."
The stone house is located just across the road from Duluth. I'm not sure if it would be correct to call Duluth a "suburb" of Onaga, but I do know that these days Grace and Phil commute from Duluth into Onaga -- it usually takes six minutes, unless they have to wait for a train.
Anyway, Phil was originally from a farm in Iowa, so he was not unfamiliar with communities like Onaga and Duluth. When the hardware store in Onaga became available for sale, Grace and Phil became the owners.
Interesting things began to happen. The Springers remodeled the store, added inventory, and changed the mix of items for sale. Today the traditional tools are still there, but there is also more lawn and garden equipment, plumbing and electric supplies, and lines of paint -- and don't forget the dry cleaning.
Store hours were extended. Now the store is open from 8 to 8, and open Sunday afternoons as well.
The result? During the past ten years, business in the store has more than doubled.
The store has gone from having one part-time employee to one full-time employee and four part-time employees -- a significant factor in a town of 800 people.
The community service ethic of the Springers is notable as well. Grace serves on the local school board. Phil was president of the Chamber of Commerce 10 years ago, and Grace is president now.
Last April Onaga hosted a regional camper convention for three days. Seventy camper units came to town, and the Chamber set up the entertainment for them. A hospitality tent was made available, the band parents provided breakfast, and a city-wide garage sale was held. Folks all over town held their garage sales on that day. The Chamber provided the visitors maps to where the sales were, along with a key of what type of goods were available at which sale. Now that takes coordination! The campers were so pleased that they want to come back to Onaga next year.
Grace says the key to success in her Chamber work is to pick good committee heads.
If you ask Grace and Phil what message they have for people in other rural communities, they say, "If you value your town and your way of life, you need to shop at home and be involved in efforts to attract other people." There is increased interest in moving back to small towns, Phil says, but we need to work at it.
Grace says, we moved here from California and our friends out there wondered about that decision. But this area is very pretty with the rolling hills and trees, and we have good schools, recreation, and a hospital here to make the community attractive to retirees.
Well, it's time to leave the hardware store. As we go, we take one more look at the signs by the door, offering benefits which transcend the usual things you find at a hardware store. They illustrate the key factor which makes rural entrepreneurs and rural communities work. In a word, it is service: Service to the customer, and service to the community.
That commitment to service from Grace and Phil Springer is making a difference in rural Kansas.
Here's a quick question: Where is the largest commercial creative art department between Kansas City and Denver? If you guessed Lawrence, Topeka, or even Wichita, you're wrong....but you're right if you guessed Dodge City, Kansas.
How did Dodge City come to have the largest commercial art department in the state? Well, it didn't grow there by itself, but rather as part of the development of the High Plains Journal. The Journal is a Kansas-based publication which is now the fourth largest farm magazine in America.
It is a fascinating story, and it all starts with a young man from Chicago named Joe Berkely.
Joe grew up in Chicago and went off to medical school in the 1940s. When World War II came, he was called into military service. Joe had some unique skills: he had learned to pilot an airplane, and he knew how to speak French.
Because of his flying skills, he ended up in the Air Force. And because of his skills at speaking French, he ended up training pilots from France who had been sent to the U.S. to learn about American planes.
Their training site was Dodge City, Kansas.
Joe had some close calls, flying airplanes in those days. And Joe vowed to himself that when the war was over, he would live every day to the fullest. That is a part of his philosophy of life.
When the war ended, the time came to return to medical school or to Chicago. But Joe had changed. He had married a Kansas girl, and the thought of trying to take her to the south side of Chicago was just too much. Joe wanted to stay in Kansas.
Joe had some press experience, so when a local weekly newspaper named the Dodge City Journal came up for sale, he was interested. It became an interesting baptism into the world of business.
The man who was selling the business told Joe that the paper had about 2,000 subscribers, which should be able to make it pay. Joe thought he should verify that claim, just to be on the safe side, so he went to the printing area to count the press run. Unfortunately, the seller was one step ahead of him. Sure enough, the printing press ran 2,000 copies -- but Joe later learned that the seller had run that many copies on that day just to convince Joe.
Joe went ahead and bought the paper. He became the fifth person on the newspaper staff. And when he came on board, he found out the facts: The paper didn't have 2,000 paid subscribers -- it had just 132. Yes, I said 132.
That was a blow. But Joe hustled ads and actively sold subscriptions locally. He says he received a lot of community support, and over time, the paper grew.
A local extension agent told Joe that there was no publication for farmers in the area. Joe's newspaper started specializing in agricultural news and was renamed to be the High Plains Journal. That was the genesis for the development of one of the leading farm publications in the nation.
Today, the High Plains Journal reaches 60,000 people across 10 states. The staff has grown from the original five to 150 employees, now located from coast to coast. High Plains Publishers, Inc., is a multi-million dollar company.
Joe Berkely, the publisher, is the entrepreneur behind it all. His skills have led the organization through many changes.
An interesting thing happens when you take a tour of the High Plains Journal facilities. As you walk through a department, your guide says, "This wall used to be an outside wall of our building." And you walk into the next department, and the guide says, "This wall used to be an outside wall of our building..." Over and over this happens, and you realize the building they occupy in Dodge City has gone through eight building additions to accommodate the growth of the business. Besides producing the Journal, their current enterprises include commercial printing, an advertising agency, insurance sales, and a telemarketing operation.
Not only is the High Plains Journal the fourth largest farm news magazine in the nation, it is the highest priced farm publication and has the highest number of inches of advertising of any like publication.
If you visit with Joe, you hear two themes: One, he describes his organization not as a print shop, but as a service organization. Joe says, "For us to succeed, we have to be of service to the farm people and those who do business with them." The second theme is that it is "people" that have made the Journal so successful...the people who built it, the people who work there, the people who subscribe, and the people who support it.
Joe Berkely is now 74 -- a very active 74....and during his years he has built one of the most successful agricultural publishers of today. He continues to practice his philosophy of living each day to the fullest. His commitment to serving people, plus hard work, hustle, and the keen eye of an entrepreneur are making a difference in rural Kansas.
Today's topic is "attitude adjustment." Now, that term makes some people think of happy hour at the local tavern. For other people, it might suggest a two-by-four upside of the head. But today, we're talking about an adjustment of mental attitude among local people concerned with economic development.
Brenda Beringer is director of Wallace County Economic Development. Wallace County is on the western Kansas border with Colorado. It has one of the smallest populations of any county in the state.
Brenda says she officially works in "economic development" but a more accurate title would be "community development" -- and the optimum title would be "attitude development."
Why attitude? Because it all starts with a mindset. Brenda says, "We need to develop a practice of looking beyond today, of being a visionary people."
Such a vision led people in Wallace County to take steps to improve their future. Five years ago, local leaders in the county -- including some you might not expect, such as the local Methodist minister -- advocated creation of a county-wide economic development agency.
Today that entity has broad-based support, receiving funding from the county, the city of Sharon Springs and the city of Wallace, the township of Weskan, Chambers of Commerce and private donations.
This same visionary attitude led people in Wallace County to think strategically about their future. They became pioneers in strategic planning. When the state developed a grant program for the development of county and multi-county strategic plans, Wallace County joined Greeley County in applying. They were successful. Their joint project was one of the first multi-county grants awarded in the very first round of the program.
The counties jointly developed plans for working on four key issues: education, health care, economic development, and accessibility of local government.
Brenda feels that the work with Greeley County has been highly successful. She says, "The success comes in the relationships that have developed among individuals."
In her view, the most important factor in developing these plans can be summarized in two words: grass-roots.
"I feel very strongly that it's got to come from the people," she says. Their plans were developed with lots of local input and participation. She estimates that nearly 30 percent of the people in the community actively participated in the process -- a feat that would be impossible in a more heavily populated county.
The state grant to develop the plan was for approximately $16,000, which had to be partially matched by local funds. Grant recipients in other parts of the state spent their money on outside consultants. Brenda and her group developed their strategic plan themselves. As a result, not only did they have more psychological ownership of the product, they had money left over which they were allowed to use to expand the process and take certain initiatives.
Having a visionary attitude can lead one to develop new partnerships. Brenda is involved with a new one as part of an economic development strategy for her region.
Brenda is on something called the 40-94 committee. That might sound like your high school reunion planning committee, but it's not. It's a group promoting tourism along an alternative route from I-70 to Colorado Springs.
A traveler going to Colorado Springs on I-70 can stay on four-lane all the way almost to Denver, and then he can take the four-lane south to the Springs. Or, he can take a shortcut.
The shortcut is to take I-70 to Oakley and then turn southwest on Kansas Highway 40, which goes through Sharon Springs. Once the traveler gets to Colorado, he or she can take Highway 94 to Colorado Springs.
Brenda and her group are promoting the shortcut. Her group takes its name from the numbers of the two highways: 40 and 94. The benefit of this route is that the traveler can save some miles and see some sights along the way.
Brenda and others are promoting the 40-94 route through a brochure and an interstate highway sign which have been cooperatively funded by communities along the route.
Good things can happen when people work together. One local businessman told Brenda that he advertised in their new brochure promoting this route, and his business increased ten-fold.
Now her committee is trying to get the two state highway departments to work together on an improved state entryway. She says it's the government that has been the biggest hold-up. Maybe these states could learn something about cooperation from some local leaders.
Brenda has been a key leader in bringing all this about. She was raised in Goodland. She got married and lived in St. Francis for several years before moving to Sharon Springs. She had been there seven years when Wallace County Economic Development was formed, and she became its first and only director.
One of her strengths is that she has credibility. She is a local person. She knows first-hand the challenges of life in western Kansas....and she's not some big city economic developer brought in from outside. But more than that, she believes in the need for an attitude of vision and action.
When asked her advice for other rural communities, she says, "Don't be afraid to talk to each other. Burnout in rural areas is a big issue. We need to work together and help each other. If we can learn to work together, we can save ourselves a lot of grief and make a lot of progress."
That's attitude adjustment. In fact, it's positive attitude development, and it's making a difference for rural Kansas.
Today let's visit a truly rural part of the state -- an area that is absolutely, positively, undeniably rural. By definition, a rural area is one with less population than a more urban area. So what county in Kansas has the fewest people of all?
The answer is found in far western Kansas on the Colorado border. The smallest county in population in the state is Greeley County, and the next smallest is its next door neighbor to the north, Wallace County.
Let's try to put the population numbers in these counties into some perspective.
Sedgwick County has a population of more than 400,000. Johnson County has 355,000. Wallace County has 1,821 -- less than half of one percent of the population of Sedgwick County.
Of course, Wallace is one of the 105 Kansas counties -- but it has less than one tenth of one percent of the total population of the state.
Let's look at population density -- defined as the average number of persons per square mile in a county. According to the Kansas Statistical Abstract, the population density of Riley County, for example, is 110 persons. In McPherson County, it's 30 persons per square mile. In Sedgwick County, 404 persons per square mile. In Wyandotte County, 1,070 persons per square mile.
In Wallace County, it's two.....that's right, two as in 2.0. Two persons per square mile.
In population density, Wallace County ranks 105th out of 105 counties.
That is truly rural....absolutely, positively, undeniably rural. How do you cope, when you're that size? How do you manage, when you have the fewest folks per square mile in the entire state?
The answer is, you use your ingenuity.
Five years ago, Wallace County leaders had the foresight to establish a county-wide economic development organization. They hired a director and have worked hard and creatively to strengthen the region.
The county and communities within it have sought out creative solutions to meet their needs. For example, Sharon Springs is the county seat, with 982 residents.
When Sharon Springs lost its only doctor, town residents couldn't find another physician they could afford. Where were they to find medical care? The answer to that one came in cooperating with neighboring counties to the north and south.
Sherman County, on the north, and Tribune, in Greeley County to the south, have established a rural health care clinic in Sharon Springs. The two clinics are staffed with physician's assistants. Doctors come in to the clinics from the other two counties on a regular basis.
Certain government services are also being shared. The appraiser in Sharon Springs has a contractual relationship to be the Wallace County appraiser. He also has contracts to be appraiser for other counties, such as Wichita -- that's Wichita County, population 2,758, not the city of Wichita with a population of a quarter of a million plus.
Then there are the multi-county, regional efforts. The 18-county Northwest Kansas Planning and Development is an example.
Community corrections is a good issue for such regional cooperation. Commissioners from the 18 counties meet monthly to discuss these issues. Prisoners from Wallace County are now being taken to jail in Goodland when needed.
And then there is the cooperation between these two counties, Wallace and Greeley, the two smallest counties in the state.
On the Wallace-Greeley County line, a bridge needs to be replaced. This is estimated to be a $185,000 project. The two counties jointly worked to get the project funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation and are splitting the cost of the county share.
The result is that the bridge is getting built, and the county has cut its cost in half.
That's especially useful when the population count is falling, and there are fewer taxpayers to carry the load. Even if you added the population of Wallace and Greeley counties together, they would still be smaller than 88 of the counties in Kansas.
That means cooperation is especially important for our smallest counties. It expands the resources that are available to serve their people.
Such collaboration is a good strategy for rural counties. That's one basic conclusion of a recent study done by the Huck Boyd Institute. We looked at counties like Wallace and Greeley, and found many examples of effective ways that rural community leaders are helping each other. Such cooperation is making a difference in rural Kansas, and it's especially important in those counties that are absolutely, positively, undeniably rural.
Our story today begins with a piece of pie....Now that's my kind of story!
This pie was brought to a board meeting of the farmer cooperative in Russell, Kansas -- and it wasn't just for eating! It was used to make a point. The man who brought it cut one slice out of the pie, and he said, in effect, "This is the share of the food dollar that you farmers are receiving. It's not a very big slice. You need to get more than that share of the pie, and the way to do that is to process your farm crops into a higher-valued product."
He is right. That example symbolized the need for a value-added farm and food strategy. Since then, that co-op has taken the lead in pursuing such a project for their community.
Loren Dinkel is the manager of that farmer-owned co-op in Russell, named AGCO Inc. He has been a key leader in advocating an agricultural processing project to benefit the region.
What's especially interesting is that he's been doing that for a long time.
Loren Dinkel was born and raised on an Russell County farm. He started with AGCO, the local co-op, in 1958 -- before most current K-State students were born!....Sorry about that, Loren.....In November of 1959, he became manager of AGCO.
The years since have been turbulent times for agriculture. But how has AGCO fared? According to the Arthur Capper Cooperative Center at Kansas State University, AGCO is today one of the highest performing, if not the highest performing, co-op in the state of Kansas.
Not only has Loren managed a successful business and served his community as mayor, he and his wife managed to raise seven kids. One of those happens to be an assistant professor of social work at K-State. She informed us that four years ago, Loren received the Dreyer Award from Farmland Industries. Farmland is the nation's largest regional farm supply and food marketing cooperative. It is owned by nearly 2,000 local cooperatives in 19 midwest states.
The Dreyer award is the most prestigious award given to a Farmland co-op manager. Out of 2,000 co-ops nationwide, Loren Dinkel was the one selected for the award.
Loren is quick to give the credit to other people. "I've been blessed with a good board of directors over the years," he says, "and they've given a lot of leadership. Consequently," he goes on to say, "we've had lots of good loyal customers."
But what about the piece of pie? Loren has worked for a lot of years on handling farmer's grain and meeting their business needs. He could see that more was needed in the rural economy. He and many others did a lot of work on possible projects to help expand that slice of the pie.
And then came September 12, 1992. The Kansas State Fair. At the fairgrounds, the president of Farmland Industries and Russell native son Senator Bob Dole announced plans to build a wheat processing plant in Russell, Kansas. Also attending was a very pleased Loren Dinkel.
This new plant will create 35 to 40 jobs in the Russell area and will process 4.25 million bushels of wheat a year. The wheat will be processed into starches, livestock feed, and something called "vital gluten." I thought maybe that meant there was such a thing as "less important gluten," but I learned that "vital gluten" is the term for a natural food protein used in multi-grain, high fiber and specialty breads -- just the sort of thing your mother tells you to eat.
Loren points out that 50 percent of the wheat gluten now used in this country is imported. With this new plant, we will have an additional domestic source of this high protein product, a new market for hard wheat in Kansas, and the creation of jobs in an area that sorely needs them.
Local initiative was a key to moving this project forward. When the project was considered, it was clear that the cost of infrastructure was an obstacle. Then the city and the county stepped in to help.
"Cooperation with the city and the county has been excellent," Loren says. The partnership extended to private, local and federal funding to make the project go. The regional entity, Northwest Kansas Planning & Development, played a key role in securing the funding.
You might have said "the redcoats are coming" when you saw the local leaders from Russell at the state fair. Their ambassador's group wears trademark red blazers to highlight and promote their community. It's a symbol of their active commitment.
So what can other communities learn about the decision to build the plant in Russell? If Farmland does business in 19 states, why would they choose Russell as the site?
One obvious reason is that it is tailored to the natural resources of the region -- the heart of the wheat belt. Farmland also cited the zeal of the city and county leaders as a reason for deciding to build the plant there. A vital factor is commitment from the local level.
I find this very instructive. Joint ventures are increasingly important in business today. Farmland or other businesses are going to go where the local people are willing to invest in themselves and join the business in sharing the risk.
In addition to the city and county, AGCO itself is committing a million dollars to the project. Many other details, and no doubt obstacles, remain to be worked through.
But it's exciting for someone who has worked on economic development and value-added processing for a long time....someone like Loren Dinkel.
When asked for his advice to other communities, Loren says "The single most important quality is perseverance. You just can't quit."
And that's the kind of commitment that is making a difference -- that is expanding the share of the economic pie -- in rural Kansas.
What is the most "cosmopolitan" city around Kansas? Well, if by cosmopolitan we mean sophisticated, many people would think of Kansas City as our most cosmopolitan community. But who do people in Kansas City consider most cosmopolitan?
Some time ago, the Kansas City Star stated that the most cosmopolitan community in Kansas is Garden City. Some people might find that surprising.
Cosmopolitan has several meanings. My dictionary includes a definition that says, "Of the entire world or from many parts of the world." In that sense, Garden City is truly a cosmopolitan community.
The Kansas City Star is right. Garden City has become cosmopolitan as the influx of immigrants over the past decade have made it a remarkably international ethnic community.
The primary reason is the tremendous growth in beef-packing in and around Garden City during the 1980s. The growth produced jobs, which attracted immigrants.
In ten short years, the prairie town of Garden City was transformed. Today it is a multi-cultural community including southeast Asian refugees such as Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian and ethnic Chinese, and Hispanic migrants from Mexico and Central America. How does a rural community cope with such change?
Carol Young says a key part of the answer is helping people appreciate each other as individuals. Carol is the area home economist and program specialist for the southwest region of Kansas. She was hearing from county agents of the need for additional training in helping diverse populations of people.
Carol contacted Dr. Donna Skinner, the coordinator of minority students at Garden City Community College, and the result was a five-state conference on multicultural diversity held in Garden City.
Carol herself grew up in Fowler, Kansas, in Meade County. She had been a county agent in three counties in Kansas before coming to Garden City.
She says, "Early in my life, I wanted to travel around the world and see people from all different countries. Now I'm finding that these people are all around us."
Signs of the diversity in Garden City are everywhere -- and I mean that literally. The tornado warning signs in public buildings, for example, are printed in three languages -- Vietnamese, English, and Spanish. You will find similar translations on signs at the drivers' license office.
On a street corner in Garden City, one can look down the street and see the Grain Bin supper club. That's not so unusual. Look just beyond it, and you'll see an authentic Mexican restaurant. And beyond that, is Kieu's Vietnamese market and clothing store. Where but in America?
Diversity is found in the churches as well. For example, not many western Kansas towns have a Buddhist temple, but Garden City does. In fact, the Catholic churches there offer mass in Spanish and Vietnamese as well as English.
All this requires a broadening of the mind. One attendee at the multicultural conference was a woman dentist from Dodge City who is learning Vietnamese to help communicate with and attract new patients.
In the public schools, it is estimated that this fall Anglo-American students will be less than 50 percent of the total. Think about that one. The school still has minority students, as it has had for years, but now it is the Anglo-American students who are the minority.
I asked Carol a tough question: With all these different cultures, why is it that LA had racial riots and Garden City did not? She replied that steps were taken early on in Garden City to deal more effectively with diversity there. The Ministerial Alliance recognized this as the immigrants were starting to come, and they worked with the police departments and service groups to build awareness of the different cultures and provide interpreters to help.
Unlike St. Louis, for example, Carol says that Garden City is not segregated into a black section of town, a Hispanic section, and so forth. Instead, housing varies according to economics. Some homes are larger or newer than others, but they are occupied by residents of similar financial position but with a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
Carol says there are several positive ways to deal with the various cultures. One is to celebrate the holidays and festivals which are a part of each of them. As a result, not only do you have Christmas and New Year, you can celebrate Cinco de Mayo for the Spanish independence day and Tet for the Vietnamese new year -- and they do, in Garden City.
It seems sort of unfair to me. They're getting more holidays than I am....These colorful parades and festivals are fun and open to all. In fact, last year the Asian dragon dancers participated in the Spanish parade. A sociologist might call that cross-cultural interaction. You and I would call it fun.
Ethnic foods are another positive way to bring together and enjoy various cultures. St. Mary's church in Garden City sponsors an international festival, which includes food booths offering delicacies from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
Another factor that helps bring representatives of different cultures together is our children. This was observed by Dr. Janet Benson, a K-State professor who was one of six Ford Foundation scholars to study the changes in Garden City. Dr. Benson points out that people of every culture are concerned about their children, and so they can unite on such issues as schools and youth activities.
And finally, why does all this matter? The answer is that ethnic diversity is an emerging reality in our global society, at least for our children, whether or not it happens as quickly or dramatically to your town as it did to Garden City.
Here's what Urban Anthropology magazine had to say: "We believe that Garden City is a window to the possible future of rural and small-town America. It has already experienced the industrialization and increasing ethnic and cultural diversity that many predict for the next century. The lessons learned in Garden City over the last decade may greatly benefit other communities facing similar challenges in the years ahead."
And what is Carol Young's advice to other communities dealing with diversity? She says, "Fear is most people's first reaction to something different. We need to get past that, and see the positive opportunities which something new can offer. There is so much to be learned and gained from cultures in addition to our own."
That kind of forward-looking view is making a difference in Garden City and in the global, cosmopolitan world of the future.
Larry Lysell is a rural school superintendent. You can tell by his business card.
You see, there's his name and title, the school name printed in school colors, and a picture of the school mascot.
But wait a minute. There's also a picture of a different school mascot on this card. And another school's name, printed in a different color.
What kind of business card is this? What kind of school superintendent is this?
The answer is, it's a unique one. Larry Lysell is the only superintendent in the State of Kansas to have this same post for two entirely different school systems.
In other words, one person is superintendent for two schools -- the only such person in the state. That one person is Larry Lysell.
Larry received his B.A. degree from Marymount College and his masters degree from K-State. After graduating, he was a teacher, coach, and administrator for St. John Military School for 14 years and then principal of Wilson High School for three years.
Then he and his wife and two daughters moved further west for him to become superintendent and K through 12 principal at Grainfield, Kansas. This is the Wheatland school district, including the towns of Park, Gove, and Grainfield.
He had served Wheatland for two years when he came to the annual rural and small schools conference at K-State a year ago. There he heard about a superintendent in Iowa who served two different schools. The idea was interesting, because Larry's school was considering putting a separate principal back in. This would allow more flexibility for Larry to be superintendent for another school.
The chairman of the school board at Grinnell, a neighboring district, had ridden to K-State with Larry for this conference. On the drive back, they talked about the possibility of sharing the superintendent position at some time when both districts might be seeking a superintendent. In December, the Grinnell superintendent tendered his resignation so the idea was brought up again.
After a joint meeting, in January 1992 the Grinnell school board discussed the issue of sharing a superintendent and came to a conclusion: They turned it down. It wasn't right for them.
But lo and behold, a month later the school district on the other side of Wheatland approached them to pursue the idea. The Quinter school district and the Wheatland district got together and met jointly. Larry Lysell became superintendent for both.
Larry points out that, in total, the schools are spending as much or more in administration than two years ago, because the position of principal was restored. However, compared to the cost if that position would have been restored anyway, the schools saved approximately $28,000 of the taxpayer's
money by splitting the cost of the superintendent.
Now what about the logistical challenges? Too often these joint efforts degenerate into feelings that one group lost and the other won. It is vital to treat both school systems fairly. So which town gets the superintendent's office?
A solution was found. The town of Park -- population 150 --was located between the two school systems. There was a grade school there, but it had been closed two years ago. The gymnasium there remained open, however. That made it possible for Larry to open his office in what would have been unused space, and treat both school systems fairly.
Larry has organized himself to serve both schools. His calendar looks like a rainbow. School events for Quinter are marked in blue. School events for Wheatland are marked with a W. Other events are marked in red. Out-of-town meetings are marked with a yellow highlighter.
There are other challenges. Serving two different school boards is bound to be a challenge. But this innovative experiment seems to be working well.
People in these communities cherish their children. One woman told us of working on a project with a man in Quinter. He was driving with her through town and happened to see two little boys, one with a concerned look on his face and the other with his head down.
Now, if you see that in a big city you keep on driving. You don't dare get involved. But in Quinter, the man stopped his truck to see what was the matter. Neither boy was his own son, but he stopped anyway. He found that one little boy had hit the other little boy in the head with a book bag.
So the man made sure the little boy was all right. But he didn't stop there. He stayed and made the two boys shake hands before he went on.
He cared enough to not only make sure the boy was medically all right, he provided the discipline and moral leadership to make the two boys reconcile with each other. It's a great lesson for life. To me, it is also a demonstration of caring that is special and unique to our small towns.
Larry says, "There's an old saying: When you lose your school, you lose your town. I see just the reverse," he says. "When you lose your town, you lose your school. We're losing towns faster than we're losing schools."
He has a point. Rural communities and the schools that serve them face serious challenges. One speaker to the 1992 rural schools conference at K-State put it this way: If there was a map of the U.S. showing those counties which lost population marked in red, the midwest would look like it has scarlet fever. I have such a map in my office -- and it does.
How do we overcome these challenges? One way is by working together.
That's what the folks in Wheatland and Quinter are doing. Not only are they sharing a business card, they are sharing a school superintendent -- with the goal of serving their children with even greater efficiency. It's building a better future, and it's making a difference in rural Kansas.
Valley Falls school
"Gee Mom, give me a paintbrush and shovel -- I have to do my homework for school..."
Does that sound a little unusual? It does to me. Usually, school homework means books and pencils, not shovels and paintbrushes. But one rural school is approaching its mission a little differently.
The school district in Valley Falls, Kansas, is trying a new approach. It is involving students with the community as part of their education. Students get not only the traditional academics, but also perform actual service projects for the community.
There's not literally a "homework assignment" with paintbrush and shovel, but the projects they do are part of the school's official activity and the work occurs during class time. The students benefit, and so does the community.
Dr. John Burke is the school superintendent in Valley Falls. He has been a believer in linking schools more fully with their communities for some time. In early 1992, he learned about schools doing community projects in Indiana and other states.
Meanwhile, Kansas had received a $937,000 grant from the federal Commission on National and Community Service. This commission was established by Congress, and certain service projects were approved for funding.
Kansas Governor Joan Finney appointed a 25-member Community Service Council to oversee operation of the Kansas Office of Community Service. Chairman of the Council is Dr. Marv Kaiser, associate dean of arts & sciences at K-State. The Council made several sub-grants to various entities. One of these was the school in Valley Falls, Kansas.
The concept can be summarized in one word: service. The school set out to find ways that students could gain valuable experience while doing specific tasks of tangible benefit to the community.
The grant was used to put together such a service program in Valley Falls. A local person, who is also a parent, was brought in as community service coordinator.
In June, the local school board implemented a new policy: students would be required to perform community service in order to graduate from high school. The next step was to find out exactly what services were needed.
Brainstorming sessions were held with two groups: civic leaders outside the school, and students and faculty within it. Each group came up with a list of ideas that were submitted in August. There were 125 ideas on the student/faculty list, and there are only 135 students in the school!
It is interesting to compare the two lists. There are a number of similarities, although the city leaders' list used different words. For example, the city leaders suggested "peer counseling" and the student list said "adopt a family."
The student list included some suggestions you might expect, such as basketball goals at the city park -- now there's something I like -- and longer pep assemblies....that one probably didn't come from a teacher either. But the students also came up with many suggested projects that were quite thoughtful and worthwhile, such as clean up and fix up projects and assisting the elderly and the sick. Then there were some interesting ones, like suggesting bathrooms at the football field with doors and toilet paper. Imagine luxuries like that...
These lists of ideas were compiled and compared. The school coordinator contacted the people in the town who actually had the jobs to do. One week before the first community service day, an all-school assembly was held. The high school students had a chance to sign up for various projects.
Now, on two Wednesdays a month, school is let out one hour early so students can go perform their service work. The adult host at the job site receives a list of students from the school in advance. They supervise the students, and dismiss them after one hour.
They also report any problems or absentees. In fact, every adult host is contacted after every session to check on the work progress and to make sure everything's all right.
So far, it has gone extremely well. Feedback from the community has been nothing but positive.
A downtown building was in disrepair. It is being repainted.
A woman was coming home from the hospital. Her lawn has been mowed.
The athletic field needed additional facilities. It has new benches.
And there's more. The PRIDE committee got student input on a community survey. The Lions club got help on designing a community entrance sign. The senior citizens home got assistance, as did a day care center and other local businesses. There are many other such projects.
The community receives the immediate benefit of the student's work. And the books and pencils aren't left out either -- students are required to write reflective essays on their service work.
And what were the teachers doing during this two hours a month? They use the time for group planning -- something that is much needed, but very hard to find time for when you're worrying about 30 kids.
Superintendent John Burke sees other benefits to the school as well. He says, "These students are learning about the community and meeting people - they might be working their way into jobs for after they graduate. And someday we might need a bond issue for a school addition. I think it might make some people more willing to vote to support the school," John says.
Now, thinking like a lawyer, what about the reasons not to do this, such as increased legal liability? John says honestly that there probably is greater risk and the school has increased its insurance -- but he also points out that there is some risk associated with anything, and sometimes risk can bring much reward.
This is not the sort of project which could be done very practically in a big-city school which has armed guards in the halls. But it works very well in a rural community. It is an innovative way to link school and community, with benefits to both.
And finally, what about that homework? No, it's not homework in the classical sense, but maybe it is a different kind of homework. These students are making their home work -- making their home community work even better than it was before, and that is making a difference in rural Kansas.
Today let's talk about parking. Did you have trouble finding a parking place when you went to work today?
Most of us didn't. Oh, around a college town or a large city, parking can be a problem, but not in most rural communities.
When I lived in the Washington, D.C., area, I found parking was really an issue. In fact, I would describe parking there in two words: absolute disaster. Is it a coincidence that the same people who create such traffic jams are also the people running the government? But I digress. Out here in Kansas, there seems to be plenty of room to park.
Recently a young woman named Patty Clark was in my office, and I was asking her about her hometown. She said, "The last time I was in town I had trouble finding a parking place."
Her hometown isn't Kansas City or Omaha or Wichita. It is Sedan, Kansas -- population 1,306.
It is surprising to hear that a town that size has a parking problem -- and it is shocking if you know what Sedan has been through. Sedan had a hard time in the 1980s. The farm economy and oil economy went into a tailspin, and jobs were lost. The bank in Sedan closed in 1985, and the domino effect was devastating. According to the 1990 census, Sedan lost more than 17 percent of its population in only ten years.
As Patty Clark says, "Just four years ago, you could have shot a cannon down main street and not hit a thing."
And now they have a parking problem in Sedan?? What has happened here?
The answer is found in community volunteers and entrepreneurs. Patty Clark is one of those.
Patty graduated from K-State in the 1970s. She married a farmer. They are raising two boys on a farm outside of Sedan. She has seen first-hand the volatility in the economy.
She says the beginning of the turnaround came in the latter part of 1988. Several things happened simultaneously. One was simply a realization by people in the community that they had to make an effort to survive, or there wasn't even going to be a choice.
Meanwhile, a group was meeting for coffee at a local cafe. They started talking about what could be done for the community. One member of the group happened to be growing raspberries and grapes. He had lots of fruit, but nowhere to go with it. Another member of the group was a fan of gourmet jams and jellies.
The two got together on the concept of creating a business, and Chautaqua Hills Jelly Company was born. In late 1988 they were legally organized, and in mid-1989 they added a sales director. Her name was Patty Clark.
Patty says that the business grew. Meanwhile, some other good things were happening.
Don Armstrong was one of those who was in the original coffee group talking about the community. Don was retired from being a contractor in Princeton, New Jersey. That's a long way from Kansas. But Don's wife Rachel was a native of Sedan, and when it came time to retire, they moved back to her home.
Patty calls Don the town's architect in residence. His specialty is historic renovation. He bought an old downtown building and restored it for use by the jelly company.
One of the real needs downtown was repair of the sidewalks. They desperately needed repaving. The community also saw a need to promote tourism. Community leaders then came up with an idea to address both needs.
What is it that people on the east coast think of when you mention Kansas? In my experience, one of the main things they mention is the Wizard of Oz...in fact, I eventually got sort of tired of hearing Dorothy and Toto jokes.
Well, the creative people in Sedan figured that if that is what people thought of when you mentioned Kansas, it could be promoted and turned into an advantage. They were right.
The community started selling yellow bricks to replace the downtown sidewalks. For ten dollars, a person could have his or her name imprinted onto one of those bricks. As more bricks sold, more of the sidewalks could be repaved.
This idea has succeeded phenomenally. Today if you stroll down those sidewalks, you can find a brick for Dan Quayle, Paul Harvey, Bob Dole, Nancy Kassebaum, two of the original Munchkins from the Oz movie, and even one with the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on it.
In fact, a chiropractor from Sedan was giving a lecture in Japan, and he mentioned the sidewalk project. The Japanese are big movie fans, and they are fascinated by America. The result of all this is that 100 Japanese doctors now own bricks in the sidewalks of Sedan, Kansas.
Not only does the sale of bricks get the sidewalks fixed, a part of the proceeds now goes to support the annual Yellow Brick Road festival on Memorial Day weekend. This festival includes parades and arts & crafts like many others, but it also includes a brick-stacking contest and a Dorothy look-alike contest.
All this is an example of creativity and entrepreneurship. Patty Clark is one of those entrepreneurs. She is now out on her own with partner Nancy Floyd in promoting a new company called "Kansas Select -- Heartland Traditions." This company is involved in marketing and promoting Kansas products. They work on business-to-business sales of Kansas goods which can be assembled, repackaged, and sold.
Patty is also a volunteer. She was the first chairman of the board of the new Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership program. That willingness to serve is part of the key to the success of the community of Sedan also.
On the yellow brick road project, I asked Patty what paid staff or community organization actually sold the bricks. She said, "Oh, Nita Jones organizes all that -- she's a volunteer. She also gets the volunteer crew together to pave the sidewalks when it's time to pave another section."
The key is volunteer leadership -- people who care enough to give of themselves to their community. Patty says, "Sedan is blessed with a tremendous volunteer base." These volunteers are making a difference in rural Kansas.
One thing builds on another. Downtown Sedan is getting a facelift. A working theater has reopened. Duckwalls has opened a store, and a group called the Howard County Players is performing live musicals or plays three times a year.
What does it all add up to? Sedan has become a more vibrant community. As Patty Clark says, compared to losing your community, sometimes a parking problem is a nice problem to have.
White's Factory Outlet
Today let me read some brand names and see if you've heard of them: London Fog. Bass Shoes. Corningware. Polo. Bugle Boy. Ralph Lauren. Van Heusen.
Have you ever heard of them? I have too. I think we'd agree that these are well-known brand names of high quality consumer goods.
And what if I told you that you could find stores for all those in one place? Well, that must be a fancy mall in Kansas City, Wichita, or Denver.
There is a place in Kansas where you can find all those stores in one spot, but it's not the big city: It's Colby, Kansas, population 5,396 folks.
How did those fancy brand names get located in a town like Colby? That is an interesting story, and it starts with Larry White.
Larry is a Colby native. He got his architecture degree from KU and worked in Houston for 15 years doing architecture and real estate development work. He says he eventually got tired of the big city and returned to Colby, where he operates his own architecture firm.
Colby is the county seat of Thomas County, and is just two miles from Interstate 70. For years, a trademark along I-70 was those roadside Nickerson Farms buildings with the big red roofs. Unfortunately, those have now closed.
The one at Colby had been vacant since 1985. Larry White bought it in 1990. He was considering re-opening a gas station and restaurant there when he learned of a different possibility: A company back east was looking to open a factory outlet store.
A factory outlet store is one where the goods are sold at a reduced rate because they come direct from the factory.
Harry Lazarus is the president of the London Fog company in Eldersburg, Maryland. Larry White learned that London Fog was looking to locate an outlet store in the midwest and so he contacted Harry.
"It took six months to get Harry Lazarus out here," Larry White says, "but when he came, he liked it."
In September 1990, the former Nickerson Farms building became a London Fog outlet store. The big red roof now has "London Fog" painted on it in huge white letters.
And London Fog was just the first. Polo and Corning opened big stores next to it in the following summer, followed by Bugle Boy and others.
The success has been remarkable. Today, if you exit I-70 at Colby, you will find 16 name-brand stores clustered around a central parking area. The streets, by the way, are named White and Harry Lazarus Avenues.
Larry White says that business has been great. Out of 90-some stores in the London Fog chain, for example, the outlet store in Colby was in the top 10 within six months after opening. Sales at the Corning store there are in the top 25 percent of their 100-plus stores. Of course, one reason is that the stores can offer very good prices, since the goods come straight from the factory.
All this leads back to the $64,000 question: Why are these big-name stores in Colby, Kansas? The answer I got is, they want to be there.
Outlet stores are increasingly popular. Companies, however, must be sensitive to competing with the existing retail outlets which already sell their products. As a result, they want to locate outlet stores at least 100 miles away from existing retail outlets, and preferably further. Colby offers that protection to their big city stores.
Larry says potential tenants at his outlet stores also look for good traffic counts and for co-location with other stores which will attract people.
Larry points out that many companies have a real fear of locating in rural areas. "Some things won't work in rural America," Larry says, "but this one is."
Yes, Larry White is making it work in rural America. He has or is planning outlet stores in such major metropolitan areas as North Platte, Nebraska, Blackwell, Oklahoma, and in Texas. A key is that all of these are located on major highways.
The highway traffic is vital to the stores. Local people shop there too, but an estimated 80 percent of the sales go to people from outside the region.
I learned about White's Factory Outlet Center when I was last in Colby. When I stopped out there, I took a quick walk around the parking lot and looked at the license tags on the cars. Of course, there were Kansas, Colorado and Missouri cars parked there -- but I also saw cars from Delaware, Arkansas, Alabama, Oregon, Ohio, and Utah. In fact, while I was standing on the sidewalk, a car pulled in and parked in front of me. I looked down at the tag: It said, New York.
That is a great thing for rural America, when someone from New York stops to spend their money instead of just whizzing through.
And I can see why they do stop to shop. Not only is it a good place to stop and stretch on the drive from Kansas City to Denver, the prices are terrific.
I stopped in the Polo Ralph Lauren store and saw a pair of slacks. The tag said the suggested retail price was $97.50. "Our price" was listed at $59.99, and the sale price that day was $9.99. Now that is remarkable, and it is bound to attract customers to stop.
Larry White is pleased that all this is benefitting the community. More than 100 people are employed in the various stores at his Colby outlet center, and employment is projected to reach 140 by Christmas. That kind of employment makes a big difference in rural Kansas.
And what about all those brand names? Larry says, "If you get certain stores in and they do well, others will follow. When you have a broad mix of stores, you can see the volume grow as they help each other draw customers in."
It's an interesting lesson on the value of pulling together in rural America.
Did you ever see the Dennis the Menace cartoon where he is in the department store with his mother at the perfume counter? He says to the clerk, "If you really want that stuff to work, why don't you make one that smells like popcorn??"
I don't think he quite understands, but he does have a point. There's nothing that works on my taste buds quite like the aroma of popcorn being popped.
Popcorn has come to mean a lot to some people involved with a company in north central Kansas. For them, not only does it offer economic development through value-added processing, it is providing an opportunity for disabled men and women to find work and to develop themselves.
If that sounds like "twin" benefits, it's very appropriate because the name of the company is Twin Valley.
Twin Valley Popcorn is affiliated with Twin Valley Developmental Services. Sue Peckham of Frankfort, Kansas, is the president of the Board of Directors of Twin Valley. Sue is one of those volunteers which are so important to rural Kansas. She even has a button which says: "Don't yell at me, I'm a volunteer."
Sue explains that Twin Valley is a private non-profit corporation dedicated to developing necessary skills in individuals with disabilities so as to integrate them into society. Twin Valley does so through the operation of two sheltered workshops and work crews at local businesses where the disabled people can work and build their skills.
The workshops are located in two truly rural communities: Greenleaf (population 353) and Beattie (population 221). These two towns are located in Washington and Marshall counties, respectively. Sue Peckham told us that Twin Valley gets its name from the valleys of the Little Blue and Black Vermillion rivers which run through the region.
Twin Valley Developmental Services offers a variety of services to assist the disabled, including group homes and community living programs. They've been operating for 15 years, and earlier this year they opened an apartment complex providing independent living for their disabled clients in Marysville. Each workday, Twin Valley vans pick up the disabled individuals and take them to job sites at various businesses in the region.
Now, what does all this have to do with popcorn? Well, five years ago a small popcorn handling factory in Waterville came up for sale, and Twin Valley bought it. Packaging the popcorn for sale became one of the jobs done by the disabled clients. All of the proceeds are used to support the developmental services for the disabled.
Twin Valley sells both unpopped popcorn and popcorn already popped and flavored. I personally enjoyed sampling the caramel, vanilla, and red cinnamon flavors.
In the workshop, a staff employee does the popping. Then the disabled clients do the mixing, the weighing, filling packages, and placing labels. Three years ago, a company in Clay Center sold Twin Valley equipment which would fill the containers. Before that, they used a meat scale and a scoop.
Today, the company offers a variety of products, from seasonings, microwave popcorn, flavored gift packages, decorative tins, and even bird feed. A food scientist at K-State assisted them in developing a low sugar formula for the flavors which offers no added fat and half the calories. That's what I like: Popcorn without guilt.
And how successful has the company been? One could say it's been internationally successful.
Earlier this year the Kansas Board of Agriculture was working on a promotion of Kansas foods through Harrods department store in London. Harrods store covers 4.5 acres. The exterior is lit by 11,500 bulbs. About 35,000 people shop at Harrods each day. It is one of the largest upscale department stores in the world.
Anyway, Harrods buyers were in Wichita in July to select products for the promotion. Twin Valley Popcorn was one of the 40 products selected.
In late September, the Kansas products were featured at Harrods store. The Twin Valley board decided they needed someone to represent them at the promotion in London, and the person they chose was Sue Peckham.
"It was fascinating," Sue says. "Harrods took more of Twin Valley's products than any other single company. Twin Valley was one of four Kansas companies selected to be featured in Harrods photo flyer. They bought 24 cases of the bottled popcorn."
The British customers were surprised to see unpopped popcorn. Sue says, "I even got asked, how do you pop this stuff?" The British are used to buying their popcorn already popped and flavored with toffee. Twin Valley tried to bring in flavored popcorn, but they were prevented because the British sugar tariff was so high.
Peckham wore her Twin Valley sweatshirt while she was there, which has the names of the towns Greenleaf and Beattie printed on it. That got the attention of a tourist from California who brought his wife over. She had been born in Greenleaf, Kansas, but hadn't been there for more than 50 years.
The Harrods buyers liked the distinctive Kansas label on the popcorn. Sue says, "We cut a label off one of the plastic popcorn bags and stuck it on a bottle to show them what it would look like. We said, now you would want to put your own label on here. They said, Oh no, we want to have your genuine Kansas label on the bottle."
There is an interest in these Kansas products overseas. As the Twin Valley promotional material says, "Our size and location puts us in the heart of rural America and the midwest -- where farming is at its best, which makes it very accessible for us to grow and find the very plumpest, best tasting, best popping popcorn available anywhere."
This is an example of marketing the advantages of rural Kansas. Why do we have to travel overseas to appreciate the good things we have all around us right here at home?
Maybe Dennis the Menace is right. Maybe the aroma of popcorn popping is a universal language. We know it is part of an international strategy that is benefitting the disabled and making a difference in rural Kansas.
It's almost Christmastime. At your local bakery, you can enjoy the aroma of Christmas treats baking in the oven. It's no wonder that the local bakery seems to be the gathering place in many rural communities. I'm ready to go there right now!
Yet the economy isn't easy on a small retail bakery. And where does a commercial baker turn for help?
An answer can now be found in Syracuse, Kansas. Yet Syracuse might not be the first place that comes to mind. It is a town of 1,606 folks in Hamilton County out on the Colorado line.
I don't want to make you think that Syracuse is a long way out there, but as a matter of fact, it is on mountain time....
So why would a commercial baker contact Syracuse? The answer to that question is Beth Aeschliman.
Beth Aeschliman is a baker's baker. She graduated from K-State in 1986 with degrees in bakery science and chemical science. While at K-State, she was production manager for the Bakery Science Club's weekly bake sales.
"Oh, by the way, Mom, I have a couple thousand friends coming over for dinner tonight."...Those words would cause panic in most any household, but it was daily life at K-State's Derby Food Center. Derby feeds 1,900 hungry students in the dormitories each day. Beth worked in the bakery at Derby Food Center too.
She completed two collegiate internships, one with Entenmann's in New York and the other with General Foods in New Jersey. After graduation, she worked at Entenmann's as a technologist -- whatever that is -- and at Marx Baking Company in Lamar, Colorado, doing product development.
In 1988, she opened The Baker's Dozen, a small retail and wholesale bakery in Syracuse, Kansas, where she and her husband have an aerial spraying business also.
Meanwhile, the Kansas retail baking industry was having hard times. The baking industry nationally was thriving and growing, yet the number of Kansas bakeries was shrinking.
That didn't seem right. And so, a number of entities got together to see what they could do to help.
K-State's Department of Grain Science and Industry, the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, the Kansas Value-Added Center and Kansas Wheat Commission jointly agreed to fund and support a Kansas Bakery Assistance Program. The goal is to provide technical assistance to help small commercial bakers.
The time came to select the coordinator of this state program. The person they chose was not some bureaucrat in Topeka or Kansas City. It was Beth Aeschliman of Syracuse, Kansas.
And the neat part of this arrangement is that she still is in Syracuse, Kansas. She didn't have to move to Topeka or Manhattan.
Instead, she continues to live in the "real world" outside the capital, which probably enhances her credibility with her business clients. Not only does she have technical expertise, she has first hand knowledge and experience in operating a retail baking business.
And how does a person coordinate a state program from Syracuse, Kansas -- when most of the cooperating agencies are in Topeka or Manhattan?
Here's a clue for starters. You can call Beth's 1-800 telephone number and find out. Yes, the Kansas Bakery Assistance Program has a toll-free 1-800 number, so it is accessible to anyone in the state for no charge. To the caller, it doesn't matter whether the program is in an urban or rural location -- help is still just a phone call away.
Well, you say, that's fine for telephone questions, but what do I do with the written document I want to get to her immediately?
Here's another clue. Would you like Beth's FAX number? Yes, the Kansas Bakery Assistance Program has a FAX machine also.
Not long ago I called the Bakery Assistance Program -- on the 1-800 number of course, because I'm cheap -- and I asked Beth a question about Kansas bakers. Her first words were: "Let me call up my data base." She did a computer check while we talked, and within seconds, I had my answer.
Now what's the point of all this? First, of course, Kansas bakers are getting needed assistance. But the larger point, which I am really excited about, is that technology is enabling people to perform this work in a rural setting.
With a telephone, FAX machine, computer, and modem, Beth Aeschliman can operate this program as effectively in Syracuse, Kansas, as in New York City -- in fact, probably more so, unless rush hour in Syracuse has gotten really bad lately....
Beth calls this "commuting by computer" or telecommuting, and she believes it is the coming thing. It sounds like a great idea -- and I'll bet that computer gets good gas mileage too...
It is time for our state to better utilize the tools of technology, to encourage telecommuting from a rural setting, and to recognize we don't have to run a program like this in the same way we've always done it. In establishing the Bakery Assistance Program with such flexibility, the visionary leaders of these agencies are pioneering a new way of doing business.
When I called the Kansas Bakery Assistance Program, I got my questions answered. With the aid of her computer data base, Beth Aeschliman was able to tell me about such bakers as Nadine Hooten of Celebration Cakes in Wichita; Faye Grandy of Sweet Traditions in Rozel, Kansas; and the Brisco brothers of Yogurt Heaven in Wichita.
But I was almost more excited about the source of this information than the information itself. It's great to have a state program operating electronically from a rural setting. Using technology wisely can make a difference in rural Kansas.
Yes, it is almost Christmastime, and you can enjoy the aroma of the goodies cooking at your local bakery. And someday maybe our rural communities can be the source of not only some of the most delicious baked goods, but of knowledge, information and services to make life better for all of us.