Friday, April 6, 2012

Incentives are luring college graduates to rural Kansas

Note: Dr. Aaron Zook is a 2008 graduate of KU School of Medicine-Kansas City.

PRATT, Kansas -- When college graduates go job hunting, many assume the best opportunities are in the big cities, but a state campaign is urging them to take another look at rural Kansas. 

Financial incentives are convincing more young professionals, like Dr. Aaron Zook, to head for the country.
Dr. Zook moved to Pratt seven months ago after his medical school residency in Denver.
"There's everything you need there, and Colorado, great weather, and the mountains are right there," Zook said.
But he was lured to the small town of Pratt by the promise of financial assistance, repaying some of his student loans totalling about $200,000.
"Any help I can get is going to be real nice," said the doctor with a smile.
"It's $3,000. A maximum of $3,000 per year for five years," said Jan Scarbrough, Director of  Pratt County Economic Development.
It's an investment in Rural Opportunity Zones, a program in 50 counties that also offers Kansas income tax credits to out-of-state college graduates who move here. 
So far, 101 people have done just that, since the campaign started last summer.
Pratt County alone has attracted about a dozen people in fields like social work, finance, construction and healthcare, needs that are often hard for small towns to fill.
"It's harder than the metropolitan area.  But it's a good place to be," said Paul Conner, Dr. Zook's patient.  "I'm just glad he wanted to come back to this area."
Bringing in young professionals like Dr. Zook also helps reverse the population decline that Pratt and many rural counties face.  And in five years, when the financial incentives expire, county officials hope their new residents are hooked on country living.
"A lot of it has to do with a sense of community, sense of family, safety for raising a family, the good school system," said Scarbrough.
Just what the doctor ordered, hopefully convincing Zook and others to put down roots in rural Kansas.
To find out if you're eligible for the ROZ program, check out the Department of Commerce here.

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