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Imagine My Surprise

The little town of Ellsworth Kansas is featured today on the front page of USA Today. Ellsworth, along with other small Midwestern towns, is running a modern day Homestead Act-like program to attract new residents; giving away land for families to build houses on.

ELLSWORTH, Kan. - Billy and Sheila Canaan just wanted out of Baton Rouge. They didn't expect to be bit players in a new movement to keep the Great Plains from emptying.

Billy gave up a $90,000-a-year deputy sheriff's job for one that pays a third as much. Sheila kept slipping on the thick ice of a bitter Kansas winter and broke a rib. Son Clayton reluctantly started his senior year at a new high school. To their Cajun palates, Midwest cooking had all the zing of roasted cardboard. (Clayton keeps hot sauce in his locker.)

So why Kansas, when other rural states offer the same unhurried pace and relaxed lifestyle the Canaans sought? And why Ellsworth, a town of 2,900 with one grocery store, one stoplight and no mall, no fast food and no movie theater?

Ellsworth's pitch is this: Agree to build a house here and pay nothing for the lot it's on. Got three kids in school? OK, that's worth $3,000 toward a down payment. Need jobs? We'll help you find them. Still not sure? Come visit, we'll show you around.

My father is from Ellsworth, and I spent many summers on the family ranch. My late grandfather was the classic prairie lawyer/rancher and was heavily involved the community, and my grandmother still lives in town.

I talked to Anita Hoffhines, the Director of Economic Development for Ellsworth County about the Welcome Home Plan, and the USA Today article. Two items not highlighted are the availability of high speed Internet (DSL and cable modem) and the proximity to Salina (pop. 46,000). There are jobs in Ellsworth and a growing number of residents who commute to Salina. With the economy getting ever more virtual and online I imagine it would be possible to live in a town like Ellsworth and earn enough to be financially better off than you would be in big city. Of course you'll miss some amenities, but it would be a great place to raise a family.

Comments (13)

Sibley, Iowa has done the s... (Below threshold)
Bucky Katt:

Sibley, Iowa has done the same thing. The town managed to get some light industry relocated into the Sibley by offering incentives.

Hmmm, any colleges near the... (Below threshold)

Hmmm, any colleges near there? Preferably one that needs a new Poli Scie professor?

Salina isn't a bad place, a... (Below threshold)

Salina isn't a bad place, and it is a hop, skip, and a jump to Lawrence, KS, home of Kansas University, my alma mater.

And yes, KU does have a poli sci department. Finding a professor ship position is up to you Rusty.

Further, if Salina is within commuting distance, it's only another 20 miles or so to Kansas City.

I just drove through Kansas... (Below threshold)

I just drove through Kansas. Salina wasn't bad, but almost everything else seemed desolate. Kevin does make a good point: real estate costs are likely lower, so you can take a pay cut and still be well off.

I'm about an hour east of s... (Below threshold)

I'm about an hour east of salina, in manhattan (yes, kansas.) Ellsworth is a good town. I'd live there.

"it would be a great pla... (Below threshold)

"it would be a great place to raise a family."

Assuming it's a heterosexual family. Gays need not apply.

How about Graduate Student ... (Below threshold)

How about Graduate Student loan repayment? Now a small town with a bunch of professional degrees could really prosper as industry comes a head hunting.

Damn government programs! ... (Below threshold)

Damn government programs! Why don't they just let the free market decide this kind of thing? Just what we need, another social engineering project trying to get us to live where the government things we should!!

Oh, ok. Perhaps this one time it's ok. ;-)

When I was stationed on the... (Below threshold)

When I was stationed on the west coast (places like Monterey, CA) I continually amazed my native Californian friends with tales of three-bedroom, 15-foot ceilinged, hardwood floored aprtments in the mid-west... for (gasp!) $375 a month!

To this day they don't believe me.

I enjoyed my time in Cali, but I wouldn't want to live there ;)

- Keith in Kentucky

I have good friends in Kans... (Below threshold)

I have good friends in Kansas and it's a wonderful place to live. At this point, most places in North America are that are not urban.

<a href="http://www.victorb... (Below threshold)
Rusty, I echo the sentiment... (Below threshold)

Rusty, I echo the sentiments on KU in lawrence. I got my J.D. there. Lawrence is growing because so many students don't want to leave. It's a great town, and is only an hour from KC.

i live in the valley in boi... (Below threshold)

i live in the valley in boise, idaho. these are some of my observations: californians and other city folk are moving here in droves from their cities. their famlies values tend to be more worldly, liberal, and materialistic. the urban sprawl is rampant. unattractive track homes developments are everywhere. (and our money driven officials are letting them build on the fragile foothills, crowd the river, and multiply ontop (literally) of the oregon trail and other valuable scenic/natural habitats and farm ground.) homes are cheaply and poorly built. the 'citified' are bringing a lot of baggage with them: the crime is up, the SCHOOLS ARE HORRIBLY CROWDED. the traffic is a nightmare. there are long lines at the stores and most everywhere. people are rude. (i've been shouldered out of the dairy case.) they complain a lot about small town rural life's lack of entertainment and sophistication. they make fun of the small town/farmer/cowboy lifestyle and 'quaintness'. (after all they call bush a cowboy as an insult.) life is more hectic and costly for those of us who are natives or who have lived here a very long time. while they came to live a slower and better quality of life, they joke about the conservative and old fashion values. and red states beware: they are bringing their liberal politics with them. the taxes go up. the cost of living goes up. economic/education/social problems grow and look more like those we see in new york and california. not to be overly simplistic, but their liberal politics and materialism have helped cause the problems they are trying to escape. (my brother/sister-in-law are teachers in california, liberals ["bush lied"], paying a lot for taxes and a home [when they found one!], and don't know from one year to the next whether they will have jobs. they have to be very over protective of their kids.)

i'm not saying there aren't a lot of nice people who move here---we have some nice neighbors (who moved into an older home.) our valley has benefitted in many ways, but there are some serious warnings and costs attached.






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