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Childcare center good symbol for the future

POSTED: June 8, 2012 7:00 a.m.

Predictions about a community’s future are similar to political polls — they often vary by a significant number and you’re never quite sure where to put your money.
That was certainly the case this past week as the Salina Journal and the Hutchinson News both published stories of interest to Ellsworth County. The Journal story focused on the construction taking place in Ellsworth, in particular the opening Monday of the Ellsworth Childcare and Learning Center. The Hutchinson News story was about population loss in rural Kansas. A study from Wichita State University predicts that Ellsworth County will lose between 500 and 600 residents by 2040, taking the population to fewer than 6,000.
Definitely a good news-bad news week, but we’d like to think more good than bad — especially for the City of Ellsworth.
As Wilson Mayor David Criswell has pointed out numerous times, Ellsworth continues to thrive while the rest of the county shrinks in population. According to the Wichita State study, Ellsworth County is on track to lose 576 residents — or almost 9 percent of its population — in the next 30 years. We’re going to assume the bulk of that loss will come from fewer farmers and a smaller population base in Wilson, Holyrood and other non-county seat towns.
Such trends are difficult to reverse. But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying to move Ellsworth County forward. Despite our rural character, we still have a host of advantages over many other places our size. Ellsworth County is between two lakes, both of which offer a variety of recreational opportunities. We have a strong county seat town in Ellsworth. And our schools and medical services are excellent.
In short, we have a great quality of life here, along with a can-do spirit that has served us well over the years.
The obvious rewards of that community spirit include the Ellsworth Correctional Facility, which is about to expand onto the former St. Francis Boys’ Home campus; Cashco, an international valve manufacturer set to build a new headquarters building in Ellsworth; and Pretty Boy Floyd’s, an upscale restaurant that is to open July 5 in Ellsworth’s historic underground.
Of all these developments, perhaps the most impressive is the Ellsworth Childcare and Learning Center, which opened Monday on Kunkle Drive. The center is a reality because a group of residents identified a need and set out to meet it. They gathered donations and staged fundraisers. Even University of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and former Kansas State University basketball coach Frank Martin helped by appearing in Ellsworth at a reception and dinner for the child care center.
The center stands as an example of what can happen when a community comes together. In Ellsworth County’s case, our community includes five towns and rural areas. Ellsworth appears the most prosperous — in terms of jobs and services and population — however, that’s not unusual, given the town’s county seat status.
The Hutchinson News series defined Ellsworth County as “teetering,” a ranking surpassed only by “fading away” at the bottom of the scale. The most concentrated group of “fading away” counties, according to the News analysis, was west of Salina in northwest Kansas.
While far from the vigor of Johnson and Sedgwick counties, considered the state’s most thriving, Ellsworth County has the tools to survive and thrive. Ellsworth City is doing well — better than most, in fact. We need to work to make sure the rest of the county shares in Ellsworth’s prosperity.

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