- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

SMITH CENTER, Kan. (AP) - When Nathan Jacobs figured out where he wanted to raise his three daughters, it turned out to also be among his favorite places - home with his family, friends and the warmth of a welcoming community.

As a bonus, the 33-year-old farmer is helping his hometown and county flourish by keeping a downtown landmark alive, The Salina Journal (https://bit.ly/1xqNhqk ) reports.

The historic First National Bank building, built in 1889 and on the National Registry of Historic Places, lives on today, thanks to the Kansas Preservation Alliance, which restored the structure. Jacobs bought the building in October and injected more than $250,000 into the project.

“Without them investing in the building and doing some of the work before I purchased it, this wouldn’t have happened,” Jacobs said.

The old bank soon will house at least two businesses and “hopefully” more, he said.

“I always dreamed that it would be my office, but it didn’t work out that way,” said Garoleen Wilson, director of Smith County Economic Development.

The top floor is being rented to MAK Collections, a Phoenix-based company that helps individuals and businesses collect unpaid bills. One of the owners, Brandon Hrabe, spent summers with his grandparents in Smith County, Wilson said.

“He came here from Arizona and wanted to raise his kids in a small town,” she said.

Wilson said that Morgan Gauby, an Edward Jones financial adviser, is renting the front half of the main floor. She is a native of Washington County and was living and working in Topeka before moving to Smith Center.

The project has provided work for John Franklin, owner of Solid Rock Construction, a local contractor.

“He also moved here because of family ties,” Wilson said.

Unlike many from his Smith Center High School Class of 1999, Jacobs decided to give up a higher income for the fruits of home.

Jacobs, a 2004 graduate of Kansas State University with a degree in finance and a minor in economics, started a career with a small company and moved to larger ones.

“We thought we’d lost him forever,” Wilson said. “But he had kids and moved back here.”

At his last corporate stop, he was working for Gavilon Grain in Abilene and bowed to a passion for farming. He returned home to farm with his dad, Brent Jacobs.

“I think (Smith County) is a good place to raise a family, with a good community and good schools,” he said. “I make a lot less money, work a lot more hours, and I couldn’t be happier doing it.”

The efforts, investment and decisions by Jacobs are giving hope to a town in an area that has seen people migrate out for generations.

“In these rural counties, we have declining population,” Wilson said. “It continues to spiral, and a lot of downtown buildings are left to deteriorate.”

The local economic development corporation was able to provide some no-interest money and a storefront grant, Jacobs said.

MAK will move into its new digs by Feb. 1 and the Edward Jones office will open by March 1.

“I want the community to thrive so my children have the opportunity to come back here if they choose,” Jacobs said. “Twenty years from now, my kids are going to graduate from college.”

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com

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