Over the past month, nine new counties have joined the effort to help revitalize rural Kansas through the Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZs) student loan forgiveness program.
Cheyenne, Clark, Decatur, Harper, Norton, Sherman, Smith, Stafford and Thomas are now participating in the program, which was proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback and passed by the Legislature earlier this year. The ROZs program is a centerpiece of Brownback’s efforts to provide incentives to move people into rural areas of the state that have seen significant population declines.
These counties join Barber, Graham, Greeley, Hamilton, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kingman, Lane, Mitchell, Morton, Ness, Pratt, Rooks, Russell, Scott, Stanton, Trego, Wallace, Wichita and Woodson counties that have already opted in to the program.
“This visionary program gives Norton County another tool to assist with workforce development,” said Scott Sproul, executive director of the Norton City/County Economic Development. “Norton City/County Economic Development identified an aggressive strategy to develop jobs and infrastructure. The ROZs fit within that strategy as a powerful recruitment tool. We have already had several people from Nebraska get information on how to apply for the program, and it also aided in the recruitment of a Texas company that will be relocating to Norton County in the summer of 2012.”
Individuals who move to one of these counties can qualify to have 20 percent of their student loans repaid (up to $3,000 per year for up to five years) by the county and state, if the individuals graduated from an accredited post-secondary institution.
Interest in the ROZs program has substantially increased, with the Department receiving 49 online requests for information about the program from several states including Kansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio and Washington. Department officials have received many more phone calls requesting information. The Department has received 38 applications from Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma.
“The volume of calls and e-mails from interested people and the number of formal applications into the student loan repayment program tell us that the Rural Opportunity Zones are resonating with a lot of people,” said Kansas Commerce Secretary Pat George. “We now have more than half of the eligible counties participating in the student loan repayment program. This is a great start to our efforts to recruit people who want to call rural Kansas home.”
The application form for the student loan repayment program is available online on the Department’s website at KansasCommerce.com/RuralOpportunityZones. A printed version of the form can be requested by contacting Dan Lara, public information officer for the Department, at (785) 296-3760 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ROZs program also provides a state income tax exemption for up to five years to individuals who relocate to a ROZs county from out of state. Since the tax exemption is entirely state financed, all ROZs-designated counties are automatically participating in the program. In addition, there is not a formal application procedure for this part of the program. Questions about the tax exemption should be directed to the Department of Revenue at (785) 368-8222.
The program designates 50 counties as ROZs counties. They are Barber, Chautauqua, Cheyenne, Clark, Cloud, Comanche, Decatur, Edwards, Elk, Gove, Graham, Greeley, Greenwood, Hamilton, Harper, Hodgeman, Jewell, Kearny, Kingman, Kiowa, Lane, Lincoln, Logan, Marion, Mitchell, Morton, Ness, Norton, Osborne, Pawnee, Phillips, Pratt, Rawlins, Republic, Rooks, Rush, Russell, Scott, Sheridan, Sherman, Smith, Stafford, Stanton, Trego, Thomas, Wallace, Washington, Wichita, Wilson and Woodson.