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.