Located in the “Heartland” of America, Kansas has lots of wide open space, sunny skies and little traffic. What’s better than that? Kansas' government officials tout the Sunflower State as a great place to call home thanks to a year-round average of 55 degrees, quality clean air and 12-foot wide highway lanes. But there’s a reason they’re advertising so hard. Job growth in Kansas is lagging behind neighboring states at less than one percent, and the state has been facing substantial budget shortfalls since 2012.
As of 2015, the population of Kansas was more than 2.9 million, a 1.78% percent increase between 2010 and 2014. That puts the state 34th in the U.S. for population and 31st for population growth. Yet some of the state’s smaller cities have such rapidly declining populations that they are offering free home lots and other incentives – such as down payment assistance and utility connections – to those willing to relocate and build a home. These struggling cities include Ellsworth, Atwood, Lincoln, Minneapolis and Marquette, but each’s free land program varies.
Roughly 85% of Kansas residents are white, with foreign-born individuals making up just 6% of its population. The largest minority group is Hispanics at 10% of the population, followed by blacks at 5% and Asian at 2%. As for ethnicities represented, people of German heritage make up a noteworthy 22% of the state’s population. The median annual household income in Kansas is slightly below the national average at $51,332 as of 2015.
Nearly 90% of the population has completed high school, and approximately 30% of residents have a bachelor's degree, putting the state 16th in the country for college-educated individuals. The largest university in the state is the University of Kansas (KU), with an enrollment of over 27,000 students as of 2015. KU claims five national basketball titles and the top-ranked programs for city management/urban policy and special education in the U.S.
Wichita the biggest city in Kansas, with a metro area population of over 670,000, is called the “Air Capital of the World” as it is home to several aircraft companies, including Bombardier Learjet, Airbus, Spirit AeroSystems and Textron Aviation (Beechcraft, Cessna). Not surprisingly, aviation is one of the state’s top five industries, employing over 24,000 people. However, this is a sharp drop from 2008, when roughly 42,000 city residents worked for aircraft manufacturers. One key reason is that Boeing, once the state’s largest private employer, ended its Wichita operations in 2014.
Other leading industries include agriculture (the state is #1 in the U.S. for wheat milling and production), cattle production and beef processing (ranked #3 in the country), energy (primarily oil and natural gas but increasingly solar and wind power too) and industrial minerals (everything from clay to gypsum to sulfur).
Kansas offers residents and visitors some the craziest places to visit, including a place that houses a nine-ton ball of twine stretching 40-feet wide, a spinach festival where the world's largest spinach salad is tossed with pitchforks in a plastic pool and a 24 by 32-foot replica of one of Vincent van Gogh’s famous sunflower paintings sitting atop an eight-story easel.
Kansas's real estate is spread throughout six distinct regions. In the north central part of Kansas, where “Home on the Range” was written, you will find acre upon acre of prairie land. In the northeast, there are rivers and rolling hills as well as historic ghost towns and small cities, including Kansas City.
Rivers and prairies make up the land in the northwest region of the state, where there are fossils left behind by seas that at one time covered the plains of Kansas. The heartland country region in south central Kansas is home to the metropolis of Wichita and a true-to-size replica of the Space Shuttle. The southwest corner of the state, where the Wild West truly began, is where you’ll find the Wickedest Little City in America - Dodge City.
In 2015, the median home value statewide was $133,582 – nearly $50,000 below the national average of $182,800 - and the median rental price was $853. In a surprising twist, Wichita comes in even lower with a median home value of $119,616 and a median rental price of $777.