The economic downturn didn't hit western Kansas as much as the rest of the country, and one reason was the ability to move products and people in an efficient way. The highway and rail systems provide high accessibility to markets and are among the region's major attributes, while regional airports in Dodge City, Garden City, Hays and Liberal offer commercial service used by thousands of travelers each year.
The major roadway in western Kansas is Interstate 70, which runs east to west through basically the middle of the region. Other key thoroughfares include U.S. Highways 24, 36, 54 and 56 that all run east to west, and U.S. Highways 83, 183, 281 and 283 that run north to south.
The four regional airports that serve western Kansas include Garden City Regional Airport, which was an Army air base in the 1940s and then deeded to Garden City when World War II ended. The city transformed it into a public airport, and Garden City Regional began offering commercial air service in 1967.
The airport offers two round trips daily to Dallas-Fort Worth International, a major American Airlines hub, through American Eagle. General aviation and corporate business jets utilize the airport as well, says Rachelle Powell, director of aviation at Garden City Regional Airport.
“Plus we are located near the middle of the United States, so a lot of corporate jets flying across the country stop at our airport because we are an ideal fuel stop," she says.
Garden City Regional also has an industrial park on site that spans 200 acres. The airport increased development efforts for the park in 2012, Powell says, and is pursuing aviation-related companies along with the warehouse industry and small manufacturing.
Class I rail lines also run throughout western Kansas to serve the 53-county region. A handful of short lines also operate in the region, including Satanta-based Cimarron Valley Railroad, whose 245 miles of track move products for a range of agricultural and industrial customers.
“We haul three days a week and about 10,000 carloads per year, running specifically from Dodge City to Boise City, Okla., and from Satanta to Springfield, Colo.,” says Henry Hale, manager of Cimarron Valley Railroad. “We’ve done a lot of track upgrades in recent years and haul agricultural commodities such as wheat, corn, milo, feed and fertilizer along with industrial products such as sand, cement, poles and pipe.”
One of CVR’s main customers is Columbian Chemicals, which is among the world’s largest producers and marketers of carbon black – a substance used in rubber manufacturing and the pigmentation of inks and plastics.
“Cimarron Valley began operating in February 1996 and today we have two locomotives, five rail cars and more than 20 employees,” Hale says. “Our line runs through one of the most naturally beautiful parts of western Kansas, which also happens to be the largest corn and second-largest wheat producing area in the state.”