Recruiting and Retaining New Community Members

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Small towns all face similar challenges—a dwindling population base to provide adequate economic activity and resources to keep the town and its institutions viable. Many communities across the rural Great Plains are trying unique approaches to stop the trend of depopulation. This page will offer examples of local efforts to increase population in rural communities, what brings new residents in, and most importantly, what keeps them in rural communities.

We add locations as we become aware of them. Please visit often to see updates. These opportunities are locally based, and you should contact the communities for information on rules, requirements and availability of lots.

Please keep in mind, these efforts are made to revitalize communities, rebuild their tax base, add enrollment to schools, or plug the leaks before they start. Similar hardships exist in most small, rural towns. Employment, financing, and other amenities may not be readily available. When you contact the community of interest, ask about these factors. They contribute to a successful relocation.

Free Land: Mini Homestead Acts

Click here for a list of states participating in free land programs.

New Construction

Photo by Great Valley Center and used here under Creative Commons license.

In the spirit of the 19th Century Homestead Act, an option that is gaining popularity is the mini Homestead Act—offering free land to those who are willing to locate in a rural community.

The main concept behind all of these opportunities is: we have a great town in which to live. We will provide you the land to build your own home, schools for your children, local amenities for you to enjoy. We will leave the job hunting to you.

Communities in Kansas have taken this concept and put it to good use. The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska took a look at how successful these programs have been.

Ellsworth, KS – made 10 lots available, four were given away, and 20 families received down payment assistance to purchase existing housing.

Marquette, KS – made 80 lots available, all but a few were given away.

Minneapolis, KS – made 33 lots available, 27 were claimed.

Wilson, KS – gave away one lot and offered 5 new families with down payment assistance.

See also: www.kansasfreeland.com.

Click here for a list of other states participating in similar programs.

Once they move in, why do they stay?

In-migration is critical to rural community development. Traditionally, many communities try to attract residents through job creation. Research has shown that active recruitment and retention of new residents must be a component of the economic development plan. The University of Nebraska has researched this topic and much of the findings are relevant to other rural communities.

How do you recruit?

Most new residents have some prior contact with their new community (lived there before, visited family or friends, vacationed or traveled due to work). Good recruiting tools include family, internet, employer or coworkers, friends/acquaintances, current community residents.

Ross Montgomery

What are new residents looking for?

When asked what new residents to rural communities in Nebraska’s panhandle are looking for, many indicated the desire for a simpler pace of life, less congestion, lower cost of housing and cost of living, and being closer to family and relatives.

What would attract you to a community?

There are many tools and resources available to communities trying to attract new residents. A strong website that showcases the community and the surrounding area has the potential to be the number one draw to new residents. New residents can also be lured to the community by active recruitment and representatives making personal visits.

What would keep you there?

New residents need a sense of belonging. Communities who keep their new residents put forward opportunities to participate in the community (volunteer, elected, etc) and opportunities for leadership development. New residents are looking for networking opportunities and other social functions as a way to get to know other community members.

Resources

News

Cedar Rapids fills housing holes with free land, housing breaks, The Gazette, Dec. 12, 2011

The Modern Day Homestead, Beatrice, 1011Now.com, Feb. 16, 2011

Homesteading program’s last lot given away, Beatrice Daily Sun, Jan. 29, 2011

City Officials Give Away Free Land, New Richland MN

7 Towns Where Land is Free By Colleen Kane , CNBC.com, Nov 17, 2010

City of Muskegon offers free land, no taxes to businesses that create 25 jobs or more

Free Land The Key to Small Towns’ Growth?, Des Moines Register

Marquette, Kansas Entices Jobs With Free Land, Topeka Capital-Journal

Rural Renewal Monitor: Read about other innovative rural community development projects.

Learn More

For more information or if your community is offering free land, contact Kim Preston at kimp@cfra.org or call 402-687-2100

Free Land, State by State

Know of a Free Land Program?

Send Us Your Community's Free Land Information: Drop us a note and we will add you to this page.

Below is a list of rural communities offering free or nearly free plots of land to those wishing to pursue the new America Dream:

Alaska
Alaska State Land Offerings
The Alaska Constitution, State laws, and the Alaska Legislature all direct the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to sell state land for settlement and private ownership.


Colorado
Meadowlark Cooperative
With 60 acres of donated land, a couple from Arvada has started the Meadowlark Cooperative (south of I-70 and Agate CO), and they're giving away parcels of property for free. For more information, contact Meadowlark Vice-President Aaron Brachfeld at meadowlarkcolorado@gmail.com or call 720-295-LARK(5275). The official website is not active yet. See more about the project here.

Illinois
Grafton
Buy a lot for $15,000 and build a house valued at least $150,000 and the city will repay you the cost of the lot. Thirty sites are available in this small town of 725, located 45 minutes north of St. Louis, Missouri. Contact Wendi Mielke, Property Professionals of Illinois, wdmielke@gmail.com or 618.535.2930 and ask about Grafton Hills. Program is available through December 31, 2012.

Iowa
Marne
"This town is located on the Brighton township, one of the original seven townships available in Cass County." Applications are available via the town website.

Manilla
For more information about Manilla, Iowa and the surrounding area visit http://www.manillaia.com or call the Manilla Economic Development Corporation at 712-654-2732 or 712-654-2632. Ask about the Sunrise Addition and the project's requirements.

Kansas
Atwood
"Atwood is the perfect place for your business venture. There is a strong workforce in Rawlins County, which has a population of 2,600 people (45,000 people within an hour’s drive). They possess a strong work ethic, and appreciate family values. Rawlins County is home to two Industrial Parks, which have several building sites available. One is conveniently located on Highway 36 and the other is located on Highway 25, allowing convenient access to roadways. Highway 36, the most direct route between Denver and Ohio, and Highway 25, the shortest connection between Interstate 70 and Interstate 80, intersect in Atwood."

Ellsworth County
Ellsworth County Economic Development, 114 ½ North Douglas. P.O. Box 321, Ellsworth, KS 67439; (785) 531-0160 (phone and fax); eced@classicnet.net

Kansas Free Land
"Kansas is a great place to live, play, work or own a business. We would like you to consider moving to Kansas and have created incentives to draw you to our wonderful state. Several communities in Kansas are offering free land and other incentives. Our goal is to help our rural areas sustain and grow economically."

Mankato
Located in Jewell County (north central Kansas). For requirements, contact 785-378-3141.

Marquette
City of Marquette, Marquette City Hall, 113 N. Washington, Marquette, KS 67464; (785) 546-2205. See Marquette's application here.

Washington
Located in Washington County (north central Kansas), offers free lots for residential, commercial, and industrial building. For requirements, contact 785.325.2284.

Maine
Camden
The city of Camden, Maine, is offering 3.5 acres to anyone willing to bring jobs to this tourist town. Visit http://www.freelandinmaine.org/ for more information.

Minnesota
New Richland
City of New Richland, 203 N. Broadway, P.O. Box 57, New Richland, MN 56072; (507) 465-3514

Nebraska
Beatrice
The City of Beatrice is offering several lots as homestead property. If you are interested in participating in the “Homestead Act of 2010”, please review the contract and contact Tobias J. Tempelmeyer, City Attorney, at 228-5211. For more information, look here.

More Beatrice news:
Beatrice, Nebraska, Offers Free Land Too
Neb. Town Giving Away Land for Free
Cities View Homesteads as a Source of Income
Lot to be raffled at Homestead Days

Burwell
Burwell Economic Development/City of Burwell is considering offering home lots to those who would satisfy the requirements and enter into an agreement to build a new home on the lot within a specific period of time. Contact David Sawyer, Burwell Economic Development, 308-346-5210 or burwellecondev@nctc.net.

Callaway
Considering offering lots. Village phone 308-836-2262

Central City
Considering offering lots. Contact Chris Anderson, city administrator, 308-946-3806

Curtis
(Program 1) Ed Cole, Curtis Telephone Co., 308-367-4151, ecole@curtis-ne.com (build single family house). (Program 2) Jerry Wilcox, city manager, 308-367-4122 (build house overlooking Arrowhead Meadows Golf Course).

Elwood
Residential lots for new home construction. Contact Todd Wilson, village attorney or Jim Varvel, Security Bank, 308-785-3366.

Giltner
Marlene Hinrichs home: 402-849-2674 cell: 402-694-1214 or Greg Ashby home: 402-849-2837 cell: 402-694-1905

Kenesaw
Village of Kenesaw, 208 North Smith, P.O. Box 350, Kenesaw, NE 68956; (402) 752-3222 (phone and fax)

Loup City
Read about Loup City's program here. Contact the Loup City city office at 308-745-0222 or loupcity@cornhusker.net.

Pawnee City
Lots are available immediately for housing, and the community is willing to assist new business start ups. For rules and regulations, contact: Alan Richard, President, Development Corporation, at 402.852.2887 or alanrichardpcdc@yahoo.com . Or you can check the website here.

Reynolds
Contact Jerry Ginn (402) 324-3174

North Dakota
Hazelton
Hazelton Development Corp., PO Box 383 Hazelton, ND 58544 Contact 1-701-782-6878 or email info@livehazelton.com