Fully aware of the county’s workforce and dwindling population woes, the Barton County Commission Monday morning supported a proposal to stem these tides. Approved were a resolution supporting the Golden Belt Community Foundation’s Come Home Reverse Scholarship Program, as well as an agreement with the foundation to manage it.
This effort is designed to lessen the burdens of government by improving income levels, decreasing unemployment rates, increasing household incomes and increasing the percentage of residents with college degrees living and working within the four counties served by the foundation – Barton, Pawnee, Rush and Stafford. County Administrator Phil Hathcock said the intent of these scholarships is to support the local economic development efforts to recruit and attract more residents with secondary education degrees and/or backgrounds in skilled trades to live and work in back in this area.
“Maybe we can get some of these kids back that we’re missing,” Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. “What a good idea.”
“This is how we can help in some small way,” Commissioner Alicia Straub said. “This is a small thing we can do to alleviate the shortage around here.”
But, implementation requires local government buy-in, which in this case involves county commissions in the foundation’s catchment area. Barton was the first county to take action.
“This is a regional effort,” said Christy Tustin, GBCF executive director.
What is the program?
Tustin sat down with the Great Bend Tribune last week to explain the program.
“Basically, its a reverse scholarship,” she said. “It’s a simple concept.”
Traditional scholarships are awarded to students ready to attend a post-secondary institution. “We give them money and they go away, and a lot of them don’t come back,” Tustin said.
“We said ‘let’s flip this,’” she said. In a nutshell, the program grants funds for recent college/tech program graduates from the counties covered by the GBCF to relocate back in the area.
“We are using it as a recruiting tool,” she said. The funds can be used to help with relocation or pay of student debt.
“We want this to be a boost, an incentive,” Tustin said. And this is needed.
“There are jobs. There are openings,” she said. But, any area chamber or business leader will say their biggest problem is a lack of a qualified workforce.
The percentage of residents holding a post-secondary degree or certificate in the four counties is far below the national average (16.7 percent in Barton County compared to 30 percent nationally). Adding to this are projections that the population will continue to dwindle and grow older.
“This is a big issue,” Tustin said. “No one entity can do this alone and that’s why we are seeking these partnerships.”
Applicants will have to be living outside the foundation’s coverage region and have earned their degree within the past seven years. They must return to live and/or work in the area.
Qualified recipients would be eligible to receive up to $10,000.
The concept may be a simple one, but “that’s where the simple ends,” Tustin said, referring to a massive three-ring binder packed with research and data. “We’ve been working on this for a long time.”
There are only two other foundations in two other states (Ohio and Michigan) that are doing this, she said. “They’ve had a lot of success.”
But, this is new here.
There are a lot of other stipulations, she said. For example, an area must be in financial distress, and have population and employment problems.
“Yes, this is an issue here,” she said.
But, in order to establish one of these, there has to be local government buy-in, and that is where the commission’s action Monday comes into the picture. There has to be a resolution and an agreement in place.
Under the resolution, Barton County will join the foundation and other partners. There is no cost to taxpayers, and the foundation will administer the program and raise the necessary funds.
There is a federal bill that would eliminate the need for such resolutions and agreements, Tustin said. But, it sits in a committee and she doesn’t expect action soon.
“We didn’t want to wait,” she said. “We hope to launch this by the end of the year.” However, there remains much work to do so this may not happen until early 2019.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Approved a proclamation marking this as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
• Approved joining the Golden Belt Community Foundation’s Come Home Reverse Scholarship Fund.
• Approved the Central Kansas Community Corrections fiscal year 2018 year-end outcomes.
• Approved the county’s applying for the fiscal year 2018 Emergency Management Performance Grant Program.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Management is accepting applications for the fiscal year 2018 Emergency Management Performance Grant Program. The EMPG Program provides funding to assist states and local governments in developing and carrying out emergency management programs, Emergency Management Director Amy Miller said.
• Approved a revision to the schedule of authorized positions for 2018 and 2019 to include a part-time position for the Health Department.
The schedule for 2019 was adopted on July 30. The proposed Lifting Young Families Toward Excellence (LYFET) program at the Health Department requires the additional person beginning in 2018. Both the 2018 and 2019 lists will required, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.