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A Topeka program pays cash to new residents. Now it’s focusing on Latino immigrants

Welcome to Topeka sign
Dylan Lysen
Kansas News Service
Choose Topeka officials say interest in the cash incentive to move to the city has spiked among first-generation Latino immigrants. The city's established Spanish-speaking community and resources are a major selling point.

Interest in Choose Topeka’s relocation incentive has spiked among first-generation Latino immigrants. Program officials say the city's established Spanish-speaking community is a big reason why.

A Topeka program that offers cash to people who move to Shawnee County is shifting its efforts to attract Latino immigrants.

The Choose Topeka program that launched in 2019 offers up to $15,000 to each applicant who finds a job and moves to the Topeka area. It's an economic development effort by Go Topeka, a local public-private partnership.

Bob Ross, a spokesperson for Go Topeka, said program officials realized that Spanish-speaking immigrants appeared to be the most interested in the incentive. Officials then began marketing the program directly to them, including both Spanish-speaking immigrants and Spanish speakers already living in the U.S.

Hispanic and Latino populations are growing rapidly in the state, and Topeka has one of the larger communities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 16.5% of Topeka’s population is Hispanic or Latino, which is roughly 20,000 people.

Ross said that community has been established in Topeka for more than 100 years and is a unique feature for the city.

The city has leaned into that. For instance, the Topeka school district offers dual language education where students learn in both Spanish and English in their classes.

“If you're a first-generation immigrant and you speak Spanish,” Ross said, “Topeka can be a very welcoming community for you.”

The Latino population in Kansas is expected to continue growing rapidly in the decades to come.

The Kansas Health Institute reports the Hispanic and Latino population is one of the fastest growing groups in the state. The organization also estimates in the next 50 years, the Hispanic and Latino population will quadruple and surpass 1 million residents in Kansas.

The Choose Topeka focus on that population may help Topeka capitalize on that.

Israel Sanchez, director of equity and business development for Go Topeka, works with Spanish-speaking applicants. He said interest spiked among Latinos because of Topeka’s established Spanish-speaking community and resources.

One woman Sanchez worked with said she wanted a Spanish-speaking community where she could discuss business plans in her native language. Sanchez said that is the kind of help Topeka has been focusing on.

“They're looking for a place that’s friendly, that’s welcoming,” Sanchez said, “but also a place that has resources.”

Anyone who can legally work in the U.S. is eligible for the incentive. It is funded by local employers who pay the upfront relocation costs to new employees. The program then reimburses half of that cost from revenue generated by a county sales tax.

Former Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla said the program has been a success. She told KCUR’s “Up To Date” program in 2021 that the community saw an economic boost and applicants were earning an average salary of $87,000.

The cash incentives are awarded to about 60 people per year. But Ross said the marketing of the city’s Spanish-speaking community and resources could lead to a larger influx of Latino residents.

“We're hoping way more (people) end up coming here without the incentives,” Ross said, “just because they recognize all the values that we offer.”

Dylan Lysen reports on social services and criminal justice for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Threads @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

As the Kansas social services and criminal justice reporter, I want to inform our audience about how the state government wants to help its residents and keep their communities safe. Sometimes that means I follow developments in the Legislature and explain how lawmakers alter laws and services of the state government. Other times, it means questioning the effectiveness of state programs and law enforcement methods. And most importantly, it includes making sure the voices of everyday Kansans are heard. You can reach me at dlysen@kcur.org, 816-235-8027 or on Threads, @DylanLysen.