Why is Bourbon County Shrinking?


Since I began writing this column in April of 2021, the most common question I get is, “Why are we shrinking?”  Many people are quick the lay the blame on any number of local factors, but in my first column, I cited ten primary reasons from my research over the years, which are listed below:


  1. Rapid industrialization during and after WWII

Small town America led the nation’s growth until 1941, when we ramped up the war effort.  Factories were built in large cities near a concentration of the supply of labor, and urbanism began.


  1. Change in tax policies to promote manufacturing

With the need to build our war machine came tax incentives from Washington in the form of tax credits and accelerated depreciation to benefit primarily these large city manufacturers; this began the great tax transfer from small town earners to large city companies.  Additionally, the Federal Government is the largest employer in Kansas City. How many Federal workers do you know who live in Bourbon County?


  1. Agricultural efficiencies and the drop of ag employment

Most of us are aware that it takes far fewer agricultural workers to produce a crop and manage a herd.  Ag employment per acre has dropped precipitously over the last 75 years.


  1. Rapid transportation: planes, trains and automobiles

Our mobile society makes it much easier for our young people to seek employment is faraway places, primarily big cities near transportation centers.


  1. Global competition created the need for economy of scale

Due to technology, the world is much smaller now, making it easier for companies to go nationwide/global.  To create efficiencies, industries have consolidated, as evidenced by the over 15,000 banks 40 years ago, condensed to 4,519 at yearend 2020.


  1. Increase in regulation

New government regulations, such as the Patriot Act, have dramatically increased the cost of doing business, crowding out mom and pop companies in small towns.


  1. Advent of “Big Box” retailers

Wal-Mart.  Need I say more?


  1. Access to technology/online shopping

The Internet has revolutionized the world, and retail has paid the price.  This has disproportionately impacted small town America.


  1. Loss of desire for community

We are devolving from a relationship culture to an entertainment culture.  Give me experiences!  There is nothing to do here!  We are becoming human doings, instead of human beings.


  1. Entertainment culture

Who are our highest paid citizens?  It is those who entertain us, who seldom live in small towns.  In a capitalist society, money flows toward what we value.


There are more, but these are megatrends that have strangled small towns, through no fault of their own.  Other than the energy sector areas, the trends are impacting small towns universally and disproportionally.


In many ways, we are a victim circumstances we cannot control.  We can put our best foot forward and distinguish ourselves from other small towns around us who suffer the same fate.  There is no quit in me in an effort to preserve the lifestyle I grew up with

8 thoughts on “Why is Bourbon County Shrinking?”

  1. Thanks Greg! Great article. I think it is important to know that this can change if we want. Smaller communities like FS need to provide good paying jobs with advancement opportunity to keep people from leaving and to attract people seeking a slower less populated pace of life than in the cities.
    But….the community has to be involved in seeking & wanting solutions. It won’t happen on its own.

  2. In response to federal government I read some where that a number well over 50% of all paychecks come from our federal government. Yes big cities have a monopoly on this. It may be of interest to note Sekan Printing Co. here in Fort Scott is No. 36 in the top 100 print providers to the GPO and could be even closer to No. 1 but we have a serious problem finding skilled workers.

    1. Good comments. The Federal Government is the largest employer in KCMO; I am sure the same could be said of many of our large cities. Not too many of us in Bourbon County are employed on the Federal level.

  3. Bourbon County is a land area and unless that area is being reduced, the term “shrinking” is quite mis-leading. What I believe you mean to communicate is that the population of the County is shrinking.

    1. I am an economist and financial professional, not an English teacher. Hopefully, you got past the unartfully constructed title and absorbed the substance.

  4. Just a suggestion to explore –
    The need for IT workers is significant in the current and emerging economy. I’m a Fort Scott native working in the Greater Philadelphia area now. So much work is being outsourced to India – for numerous reasons. But, there’s no reason that rural American communities couldn’t also establish a strong IT workforce to help support their local economies, provide good jobs, and still offer the cost savings that large American corporations are achieving with off-shore teams.

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