Purdon Keeps Same Rural Focus from New Position
14 Dec 2021
As Executive Director at the Montgomery County Action Council (MCAC), Trisha Purdon lived and worked in Montgomery County. When she left that role in May 2021 to be the Director of the Kansas Office of Rural Prosperity (ORP) at the Kansas Department of Commerce, she knew her focus would switch from one rural community to many across the entire state. But that did not mean she had to leave the town she knew and loved.
“It did not make sense to move to a city when my role is focused on rural Kansas,” she said. “I love Montgomery County, so I was thrilled to be able to stay in Independence, where I can still see my old office out of my window!”
Purdon has assumed her new role with the Kansas Department of Commerce, where she will oversee ORP’s operations, such as tackling pressing issues like child care, broadband, housing, preserving main street businesses and creating economic opportunities to focus on the needs of rural Kansas communities.
Purdon said her role is intended to be a problem solver for all rural Kansas communities, assisting those in need through the regulations designed to help them. The ORP is designed to create overall programs to address issues rural communities face across Kansas. Purdon’s first priority will deal with housing availability concerns. She is partnering with the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC) on the completion of a statewide housing study to determine needs and strategies to help increase housing in communities throughout Kansas.
“Doing a statewide study can save money at the individual county, city and town level compared to if they were all to do studies individually,” said Purdon.
A second priority for the ORP office is combating depopulation in rural areas. Communities across the country are seeking methods to keep youth in their areas as they graduate high schools and colleges. One example is the ROZ Program, an incentive for Kansas residents or to help bring back those who have left. The program provides up to $15,000 in student loan repayment and a 100% personal state income tax credit.
“We need to find ways to prevent the loss of these bright minds from our rural communities, help grow the workforce and help communities thrive,” said Purdon. “This is an excellent perk for those moving to Kansas to help them see a way to get out of debt faster.”
One successful project Purdon points to for inspiration to help other communities is the Block 22 case study in Pittsburg, Kansas. The Block 22 project began in 2015 to restore four historic buildings in downtown Pittsburg, which were rehabilitated to serve as student housing for Pittsburg State University, as well as retail, incubation, and offices for new businesses.
“The idea was to bring students into the downtown area, revitalizing it with housing, co-working stations and retail,” said Purdon. “It really gave the students a viable option to stay in the area as they graduated.”
Other priorities for Purdon as she begins her new role include early education, broadband and infrastructure, childcare and rural healthcare.
“Much of this is the question of the chicken or the egg,” she said. “Without adequate housing or population, it is difficult for communities to offer the services everyone needs.”
Montgomery County Memories
Purdon said her experiences with MCAC prepared her for the ORP role. “MCAC has historically had phenomenal success in growing the Montgomery County economy and being innovative in ways to help our communities thrive,” she said.
Purdon gained valuable experience while working for MCAC. After Amazon closed its Coffeyville distribution warehouse in 2014, resulting in a loss of about 1,000 local jobs, Purdon and MCAC had to focus on revitalization efforts. MCAC and Purdon were instrumental in recruiting Phoenix Logistics and Array Technologies, who have since filled this million square foot building with innovative technology that supports the solar energy industry. Another key success Purdon recognized is the recent improvements to the Highway 169 corridor, with the founding of the US 169 Corridor Coalition, designed to expand Highway 169 to four-lane highway running through Montgomery County between Kansas City and Tulsa. “We are seeing new passing lanes and shoulders added to this key highway through Southeast Kansas, which makes our area more marketable for business development, and safer for our residents and visitors. Purdon said the success of those efforts were largely due to the leadership of the tremendous board of directors at MCAC.
“They are an amazing and collaborative group of individuals,” she said. “They truly vet every idea throughly from all perspectives, for those who have been in Montgomery for generations or are new to the area.”
Now, Purdon plans to apply what she learned with MCAC to the rest of Kansas.
“I look forward to being able to help all rural Kansas communities like I did in Montgomery County,” she said. “I am a Kansas kid and public servant at heart!