Fountain Hills is a unique community – the town is centered around, and gets its namesake from, a spectacular fountain that reaches 560 feet. “The town was built to take advantage of the views throughout the entire area, including our iconic fountain, the Sonoran Desert and the McDowell Mountains,” says Mayor Linda Kavanagh, who, along with Town Manager Grady Miller and Economic Development Director Scott Cooper, spoke with us from Fountain Hills’ Town Hall.
The story of Fountain Hills is a distinct tale from the sun belt of the United States. A California developer, McCullough Properties Inc., bought a former cattle ranch of some 12,000 acres to build a “master planned” lakefront community. Disneyland designer Charles Wood Jr. designed the town around the world’s tallest fountain, which started flowing in 1972 to greet the town’s first residents. The community was incorporated in 1989 and today is home to more than 23,000 individuals.
Regionally, Fountain Hills is part of the 4.4 million greater Phoenix region, the sixth largest city in the U.S. “We have a small town atmosphere but with everything a major metro area has to offer; world class resorts, shopping, golf, sports, and the Quality of Life to match.”
Though originally conceived as a master planned community, Fountain Hills has developed with time, “into many internal master planned areas, each with its own distinct characteristics, taking advantage of the topography and especially the views of the surrounding mountains, the Valley, and the best sunsets you will ever see,” Mayor Kavanagh enthused.
Over the years, complementing districts have been created within the town, “carved into the landscape, merging nature with civilization.”
Indeed, Fountain Hills has been recognized as one of the best places in Arizona to live and open a business. A diverse economy, an emphasis on sustainability, the provision of accessibility through land use, efficient delivery of services, ample housing options, a balanced budget, and citizen engagement are just some of the reasons why.
Living with nature
The principal reason for the town’s success, however, is undeniably its position at the nexus of desert and mountain, that creates a uniquely breathtaking place to call home. “We’re surrounded by our own valley and you can see mountain ranges on three sides. This is such a unique community to live in.” Nestled between the desert and the valley that contains greater Phoenix’s 4.4 million people, Fountain Hills also offers high-altitude hikes and trails. “We are situated in the McDowell Mountains, so when people drive through they are totally blown away by what they see.”
This stunning natural environment remains a key priority for town leaders and residents alike. Fountain Hills is home to 1,000 acres of preserve land in the McDowell Mountains in the western part of town. This preserve links with the Scottsdale preserve and McDowell Mountain Park, offering hiking trails with incredible views and miles of distinct trails. A new trailhead is under construction for the preserve within the Adero Canyon neighborhood.
To be sure, keeping the town as close to its original environment is a top priority. “Everyone who moves here has respect for the coyotes, javelinas and the wild horses that sometimes roam into Fountain Hills. Everybody loves the natural environment here.”
Being near the desert does have its challenges. Fountain Hills has taken a proactive, sustainable approach to the pressing concern desert dwellers have faced since the beginning of time – water. Three out of four parks and three out of four golf courses use reclaimed water for their irrigation. “Very few houses have grass on their front lawn. Generally it’s artificial grass, desert landscaping or xeriscape. We are in the desert so we want to reflect that. The whole mantra is sustainability, natural beauty and health.”
The town was originally planned to peak at a population of 70,000, but that number has been halved, making sustainability twice as attainable. “We acquired a thousand acres for open space and we encourage home construction that blends in with the desert environment.”
Education and employment
In Fountain Hills, over 77 percent of residents have some college or higher, not a surprising fact given the town’s proximity to the “talent pipeline” of greater Phoenix that is home to 40 outstanding colleges and universities. “Despite the high levels of training, the costs of labor are among the lowest in the nation,” says Cooper.
The Fountain Hills Unified School District is considered another draw for the town. “Having a high school ranked in the top eight percent nationally is a defining asset for our community.”
Although the rest of the United States is predicted to experience employment growing at 11 percent, an incredible 17 percent employment growth is predicted for Fountain Hills. “Our operating costs in Arizona are up to 40 percent less than California and we have aggressive tax credits and incentive programs – and all this only 25 minutes from Sky Harbor International Airport.”
“Our workforce that keeps the town thriving is often from other parts of the country, especially the Midwest,” explains Cooper. “Our residents are highly educated and hard working. A lot of the companies that move here tend to be smaller ones, that located here because they wanted to live in such a beautiful, unique community.” In fact, Fountain Hills was declared the third best suburb in Arizona by the Movoto real estate website and the best place to start a business by financial services company Nerdwallet. Employment Website Zippia also listed the town as one of the top ten most successful communities in Arizona.
Being a town of 23,000 offers a lot of advantages in itself, particularly with the team of dedicated staff headed by Mayor Kavanagh. “We have a very active mayor. Even though the mayorship is part-time she is always accessible,” says Miller. “We also have very involved council members, some of whom are business owners who assist with the coordination of projects and developments.”
Recent years have seen steady growth in Fountain Hills and the town continues to prosper. “In the last two years we have had a lot of developers coming into town to work on various projects. Construction brings revenue, construction sales tax, and jobs, and helps persuade other businesses to come here.” One major new development is Park Place, an upcoming mixed-use development, which will “complete our downtown and will add vibrancy to the community – featuring 40,000 square feet of retail with over 400 new residential options with great views,” says Miller.
A priority on people
Combating the perception of a remote town removed from the country’s sixth largest city can be a frustrating one. “Sometimes people tend to think of us as being way out on the edge, but we’re very much a part of the Phoenix Metro area,” a reality not lost on the area’s residents.
Nature provides much of what makes Fountain Hills special, but it’s the people who serve the community that provide the backbone. “Quality customer service is key and is something that we strive to deliver every day. We want people to feel good about their experience.”
It’s also a town that goes out of its way to help businesses get started and find success. “We’re a small community on the leading edge of Greater Phoenix where you and your business will be encouraged to thrive and grow,” says the Mayor.
“We’re all about maintaining the environment and fostering a deep sense of community. Our hope is that our children and grandchildren decide to live here.”