The recent release of the report that indicated growth
in the Kingman area has been, for the most part, stagnant for several years was disheartening. From tourism to economic development this is a town with almost unlimited potential. We are a community of passionate volunteers, young entrepreneurs, and visionaries. Magnifying the tragedy of the stagnation was seeing what other community’s have accomplished even though they had far less to work with. As a comparative case study, consider Cuba, Missouri, a quaint town of less than 4,000 people in the Ozark Mountains.
Between 2000 and 2014, the population in Cuba grew by 4.7%. Median household income rose from $24,127 in 2000 to $30,117 in 2016. The estimated median house or condo value climbed from $57,400 in 2000, to $103,685 in 2016.
Dr. Sean Siebert is a driving force in the community. He sits on the board for the Crawford County Foundation, and said in a recent interview “The biggest thing that we’ve been working to do is change the mindset. It’s getting people to think more optimistically about the future of their community.”
In the interview Siebert noted that Cuba has a diverse manufacturing base including an aerospace company, numerous wood-based products companies, a national medical billing company, and a thriving tourism industry centered around Route 66 and the town’s Route 66 murals. The small village joined an enhanced enterprise zone to foster business development, and partnered with Missouri University of Science & Technology, to support development and commercialization programs for local businesses. Job training and orientation programs for local businesses were also developed and implemented.
Siebert also noted that the first priority for rural communities needs to be a focus on the health of existing businesses and what can be done to ensure that they grow. Linked with this is development of programs that encourage entrepreneurship and active solicitation of new businesses in Cuba. A primary problem in rural communities is an educated workforce with skill sets needed for modern business and manufacturing companies. To resolve this problem, the school board, the city, and business leaders created programs for high school juniors and seniors that allow them to work for employers for credit, and work toward job opportunities after high school or college. The community also holds summits for area high school students that are in essence a TED talk merged with a career fair. Another project that Siebert is involved with is a rehabilitation program for people in the local prison. The goal of the multifaceted projects is a strengthened sense of community, retention of high school graduates, and an improved quality of life.
Kingman is at the crossroads of the past and future. Behind us is stagnation and city planning with a steadfast focus on the rear view mirror. Ahead is a future filled with promise. Passionate and dedicated grassroots groups are forging cooperative partnerships. The historic district is experiencing a renaissance. There are public discussions about how best to improve our industrial park. There is a growing awareness about the importance of integrating tourism with economic development planning, and our areas potential for development as a tourism destination. We have a powerful grassroots art community. So, in consideration of the report that we are a stagnant community there are two questions.
Do we wait for the next report of stagnation, or do we become a dynamic, thriving community with a bright and shining future?