Kingman’s Resurgence: From Historic Roots to A Promising Future
A transformative vision of Kingman, Arizona, where the desert blooms with opportunity and aspiration.
Kingman, the county seat of Mohave County, Arizona, is strategically located 105 miles southeast of Las Vegas and 180 miles northwest of Phoenix, making it an ideal business location. The city proudly carries the motto “The Heart of Historic Route 66,” a nod to its significant past. Founded in 1882, Kingman’s origins are deeply rooted in the railroad industry. Named after Lewis Kingman, an Atlantic and Pacific Railroad engineer, the city has always been a hub of activity. Its history is further enriched by tales of Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, who surveyed a federal wagon road across the region, and the remnants of this road can still be witnessed in parts of Kingman.
Today, Kingman is more than just a historic city. With a population of 32,689 as of the 2020 census, it’s a growing community with a diverse economy. The Kingman Regional Medical Center, Mohave County, and the Kingman Unified School District are among the top employers, providing a stable economic foundation. The city’s infrastructure is robust, with the Kingman Airport, Amtrak station, and major highways like Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 93 ensuring seamless connectivity.
Mayor Ken Watkins emphasizes, “We are a beautiful part of Arizona. We’re in the high desert, so while it gets warm in the summer, the climate is more temperate than some might expect. Our strategic location between two major highways, Interstate 40 and US Highway 93, brings in significant traffic. Most notably, east-west traffic on Interstate 40. With many companies moving out of California due to its business climate, our proximity to the California border, just about 50 miles away on Interstate 40, positions Kingman as an ideal place for businesses to consider.”
Business-Friendly Kingman: A Magnet for Growth
Kingman’s strategic location and its business-friendly environment make it a prime destination for companies looking to establish or expand. With a low cost of doing business, no property tax within city limits, and a streamlined permitting process, Kingman offers tangible benefits to companies considering a move.
Bennett Bratley, Economic Director, elaborates on the city’s approach: “We market our low cost of doing business extensively. The absence of a property tax in Kingman offers significant savings for potential businesses. Our permitting process is designed to be efficient. We conduct pre-application meetings with industries or businesses considering Kingman, addressing any potential issues upfront. This approach ensures a quicker speed to market, a crucial factor for companies deciding on a location.”
When asked about the sectors that dominate Kingman’s business landscape, Bratley responds, “Healthcare is one of the largest sectors within our city limits. However, we’re actively marketing to the transportation, logistics, and manufacturing sectors. Kingman operates an airport and an industrial park, the largest in northern Arizona. This park spans about 950 acres, housing approximately 80 businesses and employing nearly 3,000 individuals. With a combined payroll of around $111 million annually, the direct and indirect economic impacts exceed $600 million a year.”
Bratley highlights the city’s transportation advantages: “Companies in our industrial park benefit from our proximity to major markets like Southern California, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. They can manufacture here, store products in expansive warehouses, and ensure timely delivery to consumers. Additionally, our location along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Rail (BNSF) mainline and our contract with a short-line rail provider means about 20% of our businesses in the park utilize rail services.”
Bratley highlights the variety of businesses in Kingman’s industrial park. American Woodmark, a top kitchen cabinet manufacturer, primarily serves the West Coast from Kingman. Pantex, a significant plastic pipe producer, has its largest US facility in Kingman. The park also hosts Goodyear Tire, known for retreading airplane tires and Honeywell components, focusing on aircraft brake components. Additionally, the park is home to the West Coast distribution center for True Value.
Preserving Charm Amidst Growth
Kingman’s downtown area is a vibrant blend of history and modernity. As cities grow, maintaining the essence of their origins is often challenging while embracing the opportunities that come with expansion. Kingman is no exception, with its residents wanting to retain its small-town charm even as it stands on the cusp of significant growth.
Mayor Watkins acknowledges this sentiment, “There’s a common desire among citizens to keep Kingman small. But as with many growing cities, there’s a tension between preserving that charm and embracing growth. My message to the community is to be proactive. If you want to maintain that small-town feel, participate in the process. Be part of the solution, not just a voice of dissent.”
He further highlights ongoing efforts to enhance the downtown area: “We have a significant project underway – the Beale Street Improvement Project. It spans six blocks and is one of our main streets downtown. This area has numerous local businesses, restaurants, and independent, homegrown entities. The emphasis is on local flavor, and it’s heartening to see both tourists and locals frequenting these establishments.”
Bratley outlines the project’s aim to boost walkability aesthetics and maintain Kingman’s historic essence. The initiative focuses on better connectivity for all modes of transport and ADA-compliant infrastructure. He emphasizes the renovation of sidewalks for safety and the inclusion of drought-resistant landscaping. Mayor Watkins underscores the importance of greenscaping and the widened sidewalks’ potential for outdoor dining. Bratley also mentions the significant downtown investments, including a $30 million courthouse project, highlighting the benefits for county employees and the local service sector.
Addressing the Housing Challenge
The nationwide housing shortage and affordability crisis are a pressing concern for many municipalities, and Kingman is no exception. As the city experiences growth, ensuring adequate and affordable residential options becomes paramount.
Bratley sheds light on the current housing landscape: “Within and just outside the city limits of Kingman, several housing developments are underway—these range from potential 50-lot projects to larger 100-lot ventures. While many local builders are involved, we also see interest from builders who have worked throughout the state. Despite the growth, like many communities, we face challenges in housing. A significant influx of residents from Southern California is driving demand. To address this, we have apartment projects in the pipeline, potentially adding between 200 to 500 units over the next 3 to 5 years. The city is committed to facilitating growth and ensuring developers can bring their projects to fruition.”
Mayor Watkins emphasizes the broader context: “The influx from California, with residents selling their homes there and seeking more affordable options in Arizona, has driven up prices due to increased competition. One of our primary concerns is affordability, or what I’d term ‘workforce housing.’ With numerous companies looking to relocate to Arizona, specifically Kingman, ensuring their workers have suitable housing is crucial.”
He continues, “While Kingman’s official population within city limits is around 34,000, the reality is different. We have an additional population just a few miles outside the city limits, bringing the total closer to 50 to 55,000. This is evident in the success of some major chains in our city. For instance, our Cracker Barrel restaurant consistently ranks among the top ten nationwide, reaching the number one spot multiple times.”
Laying the Groundwork: Infrastructure and Education
As Kingman continues to grow and evolve, the underpinning infrastructure and educational systems play a pivotal role in ensuring the city’s prosperity.
Mayor Watkins highlights the recent advancements in digital connectivity: “In the past 18 months, we’ve seen significant progress in our digital infrastructure. Aloe Fiber, a major provider from the Midwest, has been laying fiber optic cables across our county. They’ve already activated the industrial park, and my neighborhood was among the first residential areas to benefit.” Bratley chimes in, emphasizing the direct fiber connection to homes. Watkins projects that “within the next 12 months, the entire city will be live.”
But it’s not just about digital infrastructure. Watkins praises the Public Works department’s relentless efforts in maintaining and upgrading the city’s water, sewer, and road systems. “While we face challenges, especially during the monsoon season, which can damage our roads, our Public Works department is doing an exceptional job in keeping up with the demands,” he says.
Mayor Watkins highlights the city’s educational foundation, mentioning two primary school districts: The Kingman Unified School District, with schools across all grade levels, and the Kingman Academy of Learning, with four campuses. Bratley notes the Unified School District’s extensive offerings, including thirteen schools and diverse programs. On higher education, he praises Mojave Community College’s expansive reach and collaborations with institutions like NSU and ASU. Bratley emphasizes their joint efforts with the college on an advanced manufacturing training facility, which will provide various certification programs.
Paving the Way: Kingman’s Vision for 2024
Kingman’s horizon is painted with ambitious projects and initiatives, each aiming to elevate the city’s stature and cater to its growing population. To this end, Bratley outlines some pivotal projects on the docket.
“The completion of the fiber to the premise project is imminent and is expected to wrap up either this year or the next. We’re also planning phase two of our industrial park, a sprawling 700-acre area that will set the stage for the next 25 to 30 years of industrial growth.” He emphasizes the importance of two major interchange projects that will bolster connectivity to the industrial park and the I-40, enhancing accessibility for residents and visitors. “These projects will significantly expand the eastern part of our city, paving the way for future retail establishments,” he adds. He also mentions the expansion of Nucor Steel, a project that will infuse about $100 million into their existing plant and create up to one hundred new jobs.
Mayor Watkins builds on Bratley’s points, shedding light on the Beale Street bypass downtown. “This project aims to streamline the transition from Highway 93 to Interstate 40 and vice versa. While it might seem counterintuitive, this bypass won’t deter visitors from stopping in Kingman. Our city remains a prime spot for travelers to take a break, refuel, and enjoy what we offer.” He also touches upon the burgeoning industrial corridor stretching from Kingman to Yucca, Arizona. “This corridor is witnessing a surge in warehouses and businesses, and many of these workers will likely call Kingman home,” he concludes, highlighting the overarching purpose of all the town’s efforts – to make it as welcoming as possible for all.
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AT A GLANCE
What: A rapidly growing city focusing on infrastructure, education, and business development.
Where: Mohave County, Arizona.