Joshua Works sometimes looks at Google Street View to see how far his organization and community have changed over the years.
Works is one of the co-founders of A Bolder Humboldt, an organization that has been around since 2016, and is reimagining the community for residents. And it’s getting noticed. It was recently name-dropped in The New York Times 52 Places to Travel in 2022 as making positive change in the community.
When Google Street View was taking photos of Humboldt, Kansas, several years ago, there were a handful of businesses downtown, usually, one-person enterprises offering a single job to a resident of the community of fewer than 2,000 people in southeastern Kansas.
Now, when Works goes downtown, he sees enterprises that incorporate a handful of people and businesses developing.
“On the square in commercial buildings, there’s maybe four or five jobs and now we have, say, …. 50% occupied spaces,” he said, adding that each enterprise employs five to seven people. “So I mean, none of this is scientific, but there’s been tremendous job opportunity growth just here.”
Works founded the organization with several other people, including Paul Cloutier and Jessa Works, who returned back to Kansas after living and experiencing different life paths in other parts of the country.
“There’s just something interesting about small town life that, if you’ve traveled or lived in other places … you crave a little bit of sort of scale and a speed of life and not to mention it’s just sort of a possibility, a sense of opportunity,” Cloutier said. “There’s something else, some other way to live and work and do things.”
A Bolder Humboldt works in three distinct ways, Cloutier said. They work in commercial and property development, fixing up buildings and getting them “back into fighting shape.” They also work in economic and business development. And finally, the organization works to enhance the community through community development, which may mean bringing people together for a local event or initiative.
Cloutier said commercial and property development has played a large role in their organization.
“When you come into these small towns that, you know, were often left behind as farming consolidated or other things happened, many of these buildings had not been invested in for a long time, you know, Main Street downtown in rural communities,” Cloutier said.
“So it’s not just that these businesses were struggling to be successful, it’s that …. the roof was leaking, and it was going to cost more to fix that roof than it was worth…And for anyone to be able to start a business here, the startup cost was astronomical, simply because you had to start by rebuilding a roof, in addition to having a business in a tricky environment.”
On its website, A Bolder Humboldt lists a variety of projects undertaken, everything from a luxury two-bedroom apartment for a weekend getaway to a Cocktail bar.
Frost Bite Shave Ice is a place where local students can work, said Jessa Works. It was established in 2017 and is one of her favorite projects they’ve worked on.
It’s that focus on the next generation that Works said will keep the community growing. There’s so much focus on bringing people back to rural communities, but what about keeping them in rural communities?
“That project is a great place to inspire kids to be a part of what we’re doing and finding a prideful way to be supportive of this movement,” she added.