You might say that the city of Huntington got a better start than many cities. Unlike other communities that grew from humble settlements, Huntington was a planned community from the beginning.
Founded by railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington in 1871 as the western terminus of his Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, the new city was — and still is — a convenient spot to transfer cargo and passengers between the rails and the Ohio River, according to www.wvencyclopedia.org.
Yet all the great planning more than a century ago could not prepare the city for its eventual economic decline as factories closed, jobs eroded, the population drained and a massive substance abuse problem arose.
Those problems are not unique to Huntington, but they did seem to hit the old railroad terminus harder than many other cities.
While significant problems still exist, things are now looking up for West Virginia’s second-largest city — based on its own citizen-initiated revival. Wednesday, after competing for three years against 350 communities, Huntington was named America’s Best Community.
“For too many years, there have been people who have come to our community to tell us about the problems in our area,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said after taking the stage in Denver to accept the award.
“I am proud to be able to say ... this is worst to first.”
Huntington, along with seven other finalist cities, was judged on how well it could implement and garner support of its revitalization plan, the Huntington Innovation Project (HIP), which outlines four projects and ideas that are aimed at jump-starting the local economy and enhancing quality of life, reported Josephine Mendez in the Herald-Dispatch.
While the plans are vast and far from fruition, Williams has stated that the city is not interested in making little plans. “We have been aggressive with our aspirations,” he said. “We aspire. We believe. We commit.”
All of the $3 million in prize money will go toward the revitalization plan, whose projects include:
n Redeveloping 78 acres of abandoned factories along the city’s riverfront into a modern technical center. The Highlawn Brownfields Innovation Zone project partners with Marshall University and multiple private businesses.
n Redeveloping the Fairfield neighborhood into mixed-income housing, and building grocery stores and other businesses in the area. Project partners include Cabell-Huntington Hospital and Marshall.
n Revitalizing the West End by transforming the former Corbin Ltd. garment factory into the “West Edge Factory,” which would house Coalfield Development’s workforce training center.
n Linking high-speed broadband internet in all of the projects and in downtown Huntington.
Congratulations to the city of Huntington and all who had a role in the award. Officials from cities and towns across Appalachia would do well to schedule a visit with Williams and other Huntington leaders to learn how they too can revitalize their local communities with aggressive aspirations and community commitment.