Dream big, or go home.
That was Huntington Mayor Steve Williams’s message to attendees of “What’s Next, Huntington?” as he kicked off a community forum in January 2015. The initiative is designed to engage the city’s residents in envisioning and planning for a brighter economic future.
The question is how bold are you willing to be? How fast are you willing to run? And what are you willing to take ownership of? That’s the challenge before us tonight. --Mayor Steve Williams
Listen to the mayor’s “What’s Your Dream?” speech and tell us in the comments below: What’s your dream for your home town?
“What’s Next, Huntington?” is a local offshoot of the “What’s Next, West Virginia?” initiative, which is all about taking stock of the local economy, generating ideas for making it better, and then getting to work turning those ideas into action.
At a prior forum, residents generated ideas for strengthening the local economy. The areas of opportunity they saw were marketing of place and self-promotion; education; tourism; business development; jobs; housing stock; opportunities for young people; and drugs.
This night, it was their job to narrow down that list to just a couple of areas of focus, and then sign up to get involved with the follow-through.
The “What’s Next, Huntington?” forums were convened by a planning team from the United Way of the River Cities, schools and universities, economic development organizations, faith communities, the mayor’s office, and others.
To inform the decision-making, “What’s Next, Huntington?” conveners designed info graphics to present economic data about their city and county to participants, based on those found in the "What's Next, West Virginia?" discussion guide.
With solid information in hand, the crowd of nearly one hundred split into small groups and began to deliberate.
Here’s a video put together for the United Way of the River Cities that captures some of the evening’s excitement...
As the evening progressed, themes emerged. “What’s Next, West Virginia?” captured a few of them in these videos.
1. A Connected Economy
Deacon Stone of Coalfield Development Corp. shares his interconnected vision for the economic future of Huntington.
2. Education and Youth
The night's forum was held at Huntington High School, and quite a few teens turned out, lured by an interest in the future, and by extra credit. One of them was Franklin Norton, who underlined the importance of recognizing the city’s educational assets in planning for its future economy.
Valerie Bandell may have just recently moved to Huntington, WV, but it didn’t take her long to get involved in its vibrant community life. She’s a member of the team that planned the forum. One of her take-homes was the importance of creating a sense of place and community to improve the economy.
So what’s next for “What’s Next, Huntington?”
Since the January forum, “What’s Next, Huntington?” has formed five working groups built around housing, education, youth, jobs, and marketing. Each group has at least ten people in it, and their meetings are convened by various residents of Huntington who have a stake in the issue. For example, the housing group is being convened by City of Huntington staff who are involved with a land bank. In six months, the large group is planning to reconvene and report on what is happening so far. We can’t wait to hear what they are accomplishing to move their city forward!