Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2007


Published in GREAT PLAINS RESEARCH 17:1 (Spring 2007). Copyright © 2007 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


A number of small towns in the Great Plains have recently started to offer free land and other incentives to entice new residents in the hope of reversing persistent depopulation. Based on in-depth interviews, this study assesses the initial performance of the free land programs in six small towns in central Kansas and analyzes the factors that have affected the migration decisions of the new residents. The initial results of these programs have been impressive. Not only have they attracted multiple new residents and increased enrollments in local schools, but they have also elevated long-time residents' pride in their community and created a positive synergy. The new residents' migration decisions were influenced by a number of push and pull factors. The free land and other incentives are not enough to trigger migration, but they have effectively changed some migrants' destination choice to a small town in central Kansas. Without the free land, most new residents, particularly those from out of state, would not have moved there. Contrary to our expectations, the relative locations of small towns with respect to larger cities do not appear to have affected new residents' destination choice.