It makes too much sense. Or at least that’s the logic for a marriage between a pair of organizations calling for regionalism between the two largest cities in West Virginia.
The Charleston and Huntington chambers of commerce have issued a joint position paper in an effort to create “a culture of collaboration.” Among the topics were:
- ensuring Charleston and Huntington are in the same congressional district when West Virginia loses a House seat in 2022;
- continuing support for diversity, equity and inclusion programs;
- protecting West Virginia businesses from COVID-19 liability;
- and promoting remote working and relocation-to-West Virginia initiatives.
The chambers also urged elected officials and other organizations to collaborate on issues and initiatives impacting a conceptual Metro Valley region.
“Creating a culture of collaboration between the Charleston and Huntington Chambers allows us not only to unite our voices regarding policy and legislative matters, but strengthens our region as we implement strategies to attract new talent to the Metro Valley,” said Steve Rubin, interim president and CEO of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce. “By keeping an open and frequent line of communication with Huntington, we have room to effect a lot of positive change for our region.”
Still the gap between Charleston and Huntington seems wider than the 50 or so miles that separate the two most heavily populated cities in West Virginia.
Culturally, politically and economically, the rivalry between the towns predates Soupy Sales. Its origin is a mystery. Some point to the juxtaposition of a transportation city with a major university against the state capital. Others say the divide runs deeper and perhaps is rooted in perceived transgressions that are generations old.
“When I was a kid, I can remember people talking about it,” said Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, a Huntington native who graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in 1990. “But we’re at the point where the common interests, economics and entertainment is too much to let some kind of weird rivalry or whatever derail the chance to combine and do things together. I’m kind of excited we’re maybe getting to the point where some of this past generational rivalry is fading or going away.”
The idea of collaborating isn’t new. Former state Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, proposed merging some counties and municipalities into metropolitan statistical areas in 2005. That notion never got off the ground.
West Virginia’s population dipped by 12,000 to 1.78 million last year, according to the census. That decline will cost the state in the U.S. House, which remains at 435 members while its distribution is revisited every 10 years based on population changes.
One less voice on the Hill, officials said, makes collaboration important.
“It’s not that our two groups should work together. We have to,” said Bill Bissett, president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s common for me to talk with Steve nearly every day. Besides sharing ideas and successful strategies, there’s an understanding of our two communities that’s occurring.
“It’s clear that what affects one place will soon affect the other or it’s already happening. So working together lets us find better solutions and implement them more quickly. It’s a productive relationship and it feels like we’re just getting started.”