Highway signs aim to lure new residents to rural Kansas with appeals to wallet

06/08/2014 5:57 PM

06/08/2014 5:57 PM

A program that seeks to persuade people from other states to move into rural parts of Kansas is taking aim at travelers making their way through the Flint Hills between Topeka and Wichita along the Kansas turnpike.

Three large aluminum signs have been affixed to turnpike overpasses promising outsiders a chance to “Live tax free in Kansas” and “Let Kansas pay your student loans.”

The pitch touts participation in the Rural Opportunity Zone initiative created three years ago by the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to slow the decades-long population exodus from rural counties.

Under the law, qualified people who move from another state to a Rural Opportunity Zone county can have state income taxes waived for a maximum of five years. Counties in the program — the original list of 50 is set to expand to 77 — also can partner with the state to repay a maximum of $15,000 in college student loans held by the new residents.

Kansas Commerce Secretary Pat George sought the public relations signs, which the Kansas Turnpike Authority installed at a cost of $1,000 each in May. There wasn’t any doubt KTA would agree to install them because its director is Mike King, secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation.

“This is exactly the type of partnership opportunity we’re encouraging between state agencies,” King said. “Secretary George and I want the same thing: To grow the Kansas economy.”

The blue-and-white signs were affixed on bridges south of Emporia and near El Dorado. Two of them feature the college loan repayment option, while the other advertises the income tax break.

The Kansas Department of Commerce said its latest statistics indicate 1,522 applications for the ROZ program had been submitted, of which 800 had been approved and nearly 250 others were pending.

Most of the roughly 500 denied were because applicants already lived in the ROZ county before the law’s implementation or failed to complete an accredited degree.

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