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Commerce Department Launches Rural by Choice Champions Program

Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland announced on Aug. 10, a unique opportunity for rural communities throughout the state in the form of the Rural by Choice Champions Program (Rural Champions).


The one-year pilot program will create a network of grassroots individuals who will tackle critical community projects and identified needs integral for rural prosperity.


Rural Champions, made possible through a collaboration with the Patterson Family Foundation, will help drive success when there is a lack of capital or other resources to complete the project.


“We are continually looking at ways to keep and attract individuals that want to live and work in our rural communities throughout the state,” said Lt. Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland. “Through this program and other initiatives, such as our Grassroots Economic Development Program and Rural Opportunity Zones, we are focusing on removing barriers to success in rural Kansas.”


In 2021, Commerce’s Office of Rural Prosperity (ORP), in partnership with the Kansas Sampler Foundation, outlined the recommendation for Rural Champions in its Power Up and Go report, an effort begun by former Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers prior to his appointment as State Treasurer.


The need for the Rural Champions program was identified through surveys and interviews of more than 600 rural Kansans under the age of 40 as something that would “move the needle” toward success.


To apply, communities describe current activities and challenges stifling progress and how a Rural Champion would benefit advancement.


Twelve communities will be selected for the pilot program and will receive a stipend for wages for the Rural Champion.


Projects could include anything the community designates as critically needed, including, but not limited to:


A new childcare facility or rehabilitating a building to support a childcare center.


Health and wellness projects such as a trail system or shared bike program.


Rehabilitation or construction of new housing units.


Entrepreneurship development.


Eligible applicants must be located in counties with less than 40,000 population, and include:


Cities or Counties.


Economic/Community Development Organizations.


Community Foundations.


Local Chambers of Commerce or Tourism groups.


Nonprofit organizations including 501(c)3 or 501(c)6.


Main Street organizations or affiliates.


Federally recognized tribal communities.


“The program was designed to help revitalize rural communities,” said Trisha Purdon, Director Office of Rural Prosperity. “The Rural Champions will play an integral part in identifying projects – and then making them happen. Every community is unique, and this program provides the flexibility to develop a project that fits their goals.”


Rural Champions will receive direct guidance and technical assistance from the Office of Rural Prosperity to ensure project success. The Office of Rural Prosperity will assist with the development of a rural community playbook to share with other communities for future projects.


Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16. An informational webinar will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 18.


For more information and to register for the webinar, visit www.kansascommerce.gov/orp/ruralchampions/.


Rural Champions will be announced in late September and will have one year to complete their projects.


Questions can be directed to Kerri Falletti at kerri.falletti@ks.gov or 785-207-5206.