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Huntington adds the future to points of pride

The Herald-Dispatch, April 21, 2017

Huntington has always had great pride in its past - and for good reason.

As the railroads met the Ohio River in the late 1800s, the city and the region began to boom with new people and new industry. Dramatic growth continued through the first half of the 20th Century, as the Jewel City saw its population grow from about 12,000 in 1900 to more than 86,000 in 1950.

Many of our residents remember the bustling factories and busy downtowns of the Tri-State in the 1950s with great affection. But in the following decades, things began to slide. Manufacturing icons began to close their doors, and young people began to move away.

As the new century dawned, Huntington's population dropped below 50,000, and the city faced some of its toughest times. Crumbling infrastructure, empty storefronts, city financial woes and rising crime rates became overwhelming problems. Over the next decade, the city also became a poster child for rising obesity rates and the tragedies of the opioid epidemic.

Looking forward to a new future was no easy task. That is what makes Huntington's victory in the America's Best Communities competition this week so significant.

City leaders and community volunteers made their case on a plan that is all about looking forward and creating a brighter future. The $3 million cash award will be a great help in kick-starting some of those ideas, but pulling together and developing a more comprehensive road map for redevelopment in many parts of town is the biggest prize of all.

For that leadership, Mayor Steve Williams deserves a great deal of credit. He changed the community conversation from an endless analysis of what had gone wrong and who was to blame to a new discussion of where can we go and how can we get there.

Without question, the city still faces many of the same challenges - from pension plan problems and layoffs to housing decay and drug abuse. But the strategies to retool old industrial properties, revitalize troubled neighborhoods and critical corridors and promote cutting-edge broadband technologies can and will help reshape Huntington's future.

"For too many years, there have been people who have come to our community to tell us about the problems in our area," Williams said in accepting the award Wednesday. "I am proud to be able to say ... this is worst to first."

This week, Huntington can add its aspirations and hopes for the future to its many points of pride.

Huntington wins $3M grand prize in competition

The Herald-Dispatch, April 20, 2017

HUNTINGTON - For several years, the city of Huntington has been defined by its worst attributes - a drug problem, overwhelming obesity rates and financial struggles.

But now, the people of Huntington have a new label to hang their hat on.

After competing for three years against 350 communities, Huntington was named America's Best Community on Wednesday during an awards ceremony in Denver, Colorado.

"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 with other representatives from Huntington to accept their award and the grand prize, a check for $3 million. "I am proud to be able to say . . . this is worst to first."

More than 1,000 miles away at a watch party at Trifecta Productions in Huntington, Marshall University students, business owners, elected officials and community members burst into cheers and tears as Vince Gill, ambassador for the competition and country music legend, announced Huntington as the winner.

"It's the most awesome feeling I've ever had other than my wedding day and the birth of two sons and my grandson," said Huntington City Councilwoman Joyce Clark. "I don't think most people expected us to win. I think they thought, 'How could a city with a drug problem and money problems and everything else be America's Best Community?' . . . Every town has those same problems, but what makes us special is our people, our tenacity and our drive."

Whether people live in Highlawn, Westmoreland, Fairfield or the West End, Clark said the award is something everyone in Huntington should be proud to claim.

As a Marshall student, Bethany Nielson, 20, of Morgantown, said she is amazed by the transformation the city has made in the past few years.

"There is so much pride in the community and so many people involved in improving the lives of others within the community," she said.

Having already seen the ball rolling and several of the projects in the city's revitalization plan, Philip Nelson, co-developer of Capital Venture Corp. in Huntington, said adding another $3 million to the pot will only boost those efforts.

"This provides us a springboard to do so many things that we want to do," he said. "We've come through the worst times and we are building to better times, and this is just a reaffirmation that we are on the right track."

To win the America's Best Communities competition, Huntington, along with seven other finalist cities, was judged on how well it could implement and garner support of its revitalization plan, also known as 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.

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," Williams said in a statement.

"Our people believe in the direction we are taking with our community's revitalization plan and, because of that, they have embraced our commitment to transform Huntington and the broader Appalachian region for the next 50 years ... We make no little plans in Huntington. We aspire. We believe. We commit."

Community members will have the chance to welcome home and congratulate Huntington's America's Best Communities leadership team at 2:45 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at the Huntington Tri-State Airport.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona, was awarded second place and received $2 million, and Statesboro, Georgia, was awarded third place and received $1 million.

The competition was sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel.

West Virginia should follow Huntington’s lead

The Daily Athenaeum, April 20, 2017

When it comes to the prosperity of every West Virginian, the first step is access to resources. And when it comes to access, an unlikely location is leading the charge. Huntington, West Virginia.

When you see the name Huntington, many things can come to mind.

It’s the home of Marshall University, the state’s second largest educational institution. It’s also home to one of the worst opioid environments in the state, a city where 26 individuals overdosed in just one four hour span last year.

Because of this, many thought the community—previously rated as the most miserable in America—didn’t deserve a mention in the national America’s Best Communities Competition, let alone a victory. How could such a scarred area really be considered the best community in the country?

But this award wasn’t won for Huntington’s past, it was won with ideas for Huntington’s future. Ideas that could majorly benefit other West Virginia regions, as well.

Thanks to the hard work and foresight of many dedicated community members, Huntington is now $3 million further in its work on major issues in the state (the prize for winning the competition). And not because of the city’s bad areas or conditions, but because of a plan for the city’s future and development called the Huntington Innovation Project. West Virginia, as a state, needs to take note.

The Huntington Innovation Project targets redevelopment in the Huntington area, and focuses on helping West Virginians tackle some of the biggest issues holding back prosperity in the state.

It is a great blueprint for how the rest of the state can look to fight these issues, and with $3 million in extra funding for this process, we will continue to see it in action.

The project has become a test run for new approaches to both old and new problems statewide.

The Project targets training workers for new and evolving fields like solar energy, bringing healthy food alternatives to areas lacking the resources, redeveloping local housing and streets for better conditions, boosting jobs in pivotal areas like healthcare and developing a strong, city-wide broadband network for the community.

For West Virginia to prosper, it needs to tackle access first and foremost, and Huntington is showing all of us how it’s done. Whether that access is to quality internet connections, healthy food resources, quality roads, training for transferable skills, or access to health and addiction care, it is pivotal for the state to grow.

The Huntington Innovation Project gives us a tried and tested strategy for approaching this, starting right in the thick of some of the state’s worst conditions and showing how communities can fight and succeed locally.

After the big $3M win, where’s the money going?

WSAZ, April 20, 2017

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – After more than two years of competition, there was a big win for the city of Huntington Wednesday, bringing a top prize of $3 million in the America's Best Communities Competition.

Huntington beat out seven other cities nationwide with its plans.

Now the question is, where will the $3 million in prize money go?

The short answer is the east side, west side and along Hal Greer Boulevard. In fact, the diversity of locations helped make Huntington stand out from the pack.

But less than 24 hours after the big announcement, city officials said knowing when that money will be spent that is a much more difficult question.

The excitement was obvious as the winning delegation in America's Best Communities contest came home to Huntington Thursday afternoon.

"This is a testament to our plan,” said Mayor Steve Williams. “But more than anything else, how our community came behind this."

The goal of the competition is to stimulate growth and revitalize cities.

Huntington's entry focuses on four areas.

First is the Highlawn brownfields on the east side. That’s 78 acres of old manufacturing sites the city wants to turn into manufacturing campus focused on polymer technology. It will go alongside new Marshall University facilities, a baseball stadium, hotel and conference center and pedestrian access to the riverfront.

Second is revitalization on the West End. It’s highlighted by turning a former clothing factory on Vinson Street into a regional jobs training center in everything from solar roof installation to furniture making and sustainable agriculture.

Third is the Fairfield Innovation corridor along Hal Greer Boulevard. The goal is to turn distressed neighborhoods and slums and a shortage of food choices to mixed income housing, grocery store and more healthcare jobs clustered near Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Fourth is gigabit city. The plan is to install high-speed broadband to connect the three above areas along with other key corridors.

"Those projects will be developed. It was my expectation they were always going to be developed, whether we won or lost,” Williams said. “The nice thing is, now we have 3 million dollars to help us along the way"

With the realization that $150,000 of prize money so far has been leveraged into $12.7 million in other grant money and awards, city officials hope there are 3 million reasons why the sky is now the limit.

"This is Huntington's award and everyone in our community," Williams said.

In a city that is facing financial issues on other fronts, there are few important key things to remember.

This money cannot be put into the city's general fund. It's administered by the non-profit Foundation for the Tri-State.

It didn't cost anything for Huntington to submit an entry. All travel costs, including the trip to Denver this week, were picked up the contest sponsors.

Williams also talked about the moment the announcement was made.

"I've dreamt it. I've envisioned it, expected it. But when it came down washing over me, it was just, 'I can't believe it.'"

He hopes this is just the beginning.

"There is something special that is happening in this community. It's blessed. In the midst of all the difficulties we have, we are blessed beyond imagining. My first thought was, thank you."

Huntington hosts pep rally for America’s Best Communities

The Herald-Dispatch, April 18, 2017

HUNTINGTON — Hundreds gathered at Pullman Square in downtown Huntington on Monday for one last community rally before city leaders head to Denver, Colorado, with hopes of returning home with the $3 million grand prize in the America's Best Communities competition.

"We are here to celebrate you tonight," Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. "Because of you, Huntington is one of eight finalists in the competition."

With a little less than 48 hours before the winner is announced, "Rally to be America's Best" was the final pep rally before the Huntington team departs for Denver to learn its fate on Wednesday. The event featured Marshall University cheerleaders, dance team and drum line and local historian James Casto as "Collis P. Huntington," the city's founder.

"Huntington has a remarkable past and a more remarkable future," Casto said while portraying Huntington. "The best is yet to be."

The America's Best Communities competition began in September 2014, and Huntington has already won $150,000.

"We have raised over $12.7 million with that $150,000," Williams said. "It has been used to advance projects to put people to work in the Highlawn area, to put people to work in the Fairfield neighborhood, to put people to work in the West End and to build high-speed broadband throughout the city of Huntington."

On Wednesday, April 19, in Denver, Huntington will present its strategies for economic revitalization and share progress made in achieving new growth.

"Our future is bright and the pathway to what we are going to experience in the next 50 years is being set these days right here because of your efforts," Williams told the crowd. "We are confident that we will be coming back as the winners of this contest."

"We are America's Best Community!" the crowd shouted as the pep rally came to an end.

Deacon Stone, of Huntington, brought his wife, Jessica, and two children, Lola, 6, and Milo, 4, to be part of the excitement.

"Leadership is about being aspirational, no matter where you are and there are always opportunities to improve every circumstance, so we should be positive about it," Stone said. "It's important that the community comes out to show our support, and I wanted my family to be a part of it."

"It is exciting to see Huntington so committed to this effort," said Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Bill Bissett. "The community's commitment to make Huntington a better place to live, work, visit and have fun is shown by the crowd we have here this evening."

After two and a half years, the competition is finally coming to an end. Williams says Huntington feels pretty good about their chances to win $3 million.

"Make no mistake; we are in it to win it," Williams said.

The contest is a $10 million, three-year initiative sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel. A total of 350 communities entered the competition when it began nearly 30 months ago.

The winners will be announced Wednesday night at the Denver Marriott Tech Center in Denver at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

A live stream of the community's presentation and the grand prize ceremony will be available at

Coalfield Development Corp. Making Cuts into Unemployment With Saws Edge

WV Public Broadcasting - Jun 6, 2016

Since acquiring the old Corbin Factory building in Westmoreland in the summer of 2014, the Coalfield Development Corporation has turned the building, now called West Edge, into a hub of training and opportunity. West Edge has developed a woodworking workshop that’s slowly cutting into the areas unemployment numbers.

Glen Wilson is a former marine corps veteran from Wayne.

"It’s a passion for me, my papa was into. I was woodworking with him when I was 14 years old, he just got me into it and when he passed away, his shop kind of disappeared and I kind of ventured off of it, but my dream’s always been to woodwork," Wilson said.

Wilson is one of just a few students involved in a program where participants take classes at Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington and earn credits and money to work at a woodworking shop at West Edge, called Saws Edge.

"You’re creating something that’s been put on this earth and comes from a tree and you cut it down and make something beautiful out of it, you can see all the texture and the grain out of it," Wilson said. "There’s wild stuff when you reveal the wood and what you can see in it, it’s just amazing."

The workshop has been working on projects for about a year now, but is starting to slowly grow. The group takes wood from old buildings in southern West Virginia, that’s reclaimed by a deconstruction team. The team is part of the Coalfield Development Corporation as well. Coalfield Development Corporation is a community based organization working in the southern part of the state.

They started out building and deconstructing homes and now provide other training opportunities at West Edge. The goal is to create job opportunities in southern West Virginia. They’re funded through private donations and grants.

Using donated wood-cutting machines, they take reclaimed wood to make different things for sale in the local market with the hopes that local groups will purchase them. They have an agreement with West Virginia Living Magazine to make home decor pieces, they’re working with local businesses on making desks and they’ve produced pieces for Heritage Farm.

Deacon Stone is president of Reclaim Appalachia and project director at West Edge. He said it’s a perfect opportunity to expose the students in the workshop to private businesses to help prepare them for the job market.

"It’s important for us and critical for the crew members to have a close interface with the private sector and for them to understand the kind of skills that we’re building here so we can achieve good placements for our crew members," Stone said.

One of the businesses that has purchased wood and the services of the wood shop is a group called Ackenpucky. The name is an Appalachian slang term meaning a stew of unspecified ingredients or in the construction industry like a caulking or glue substance. They’re a design and construction group that specializes in restaurant and kitchen design.

Logan County native David Seth Cyfers and his wife run Ackenpucky, which is based in Huntington. He says they’ve used Saws Edge to cut down on their workload.

"In the last couple of years we’ve just been buying reclaimed products from them to do the work ourselves, but the design business has picked up to the point where it’s beneficial to us and beneficial to them to collaborate," Cyfers said.

They’ve purchased reclaimed wood in the past from Saws Edge for projects like the design and construction of Backyard Pizza in Huntington and are working with the group on bar tops made from old bowling alley lanes for a new restaurant called the Peddler.

Ashley Wiles, of Wayne, appreciates what the Saws Edge has done.

"It’s crazy because before I started here I never thought I could do it, but realistically I can," Wiles said. "I can run most of this equipment, you have to be taught and you just have to do it."

Other students at the workshop say they’re just hoping to earn more business and more opportunities for Saws Edge.

HMDA purchase moving forward

Herald-Dispatch - May 17, 2016

HUNTINGTON - After months of discussion, the Huntington Municipal Development Authority is moving forward with the purchase of the former Ingram Barge property for a brownfield redevelopment project.

During a meeting Tuesday, HMDA approved a nonrefundable transfer of $100,000 to the Ingram Marine Group in order to begin negations for the estimated $2 million it will take to purchase the 27- acre property.

Ingram Marine Group operated a barge terminal and coal dock facility on the brownfield property along the Ohio River in Huntington's Highlawn neighborhood until 2009.

The Ingram-owned land is part of 70-plus acres of contiguous brownfield sites extending from 5th Avenue to the Ohio River starting at 24th Street.

HMDA will also pursue a $1 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and apply for a loan with the West Virginia Development Office to finance the portion of the purchase price not covered by grants and internal funds.

Final approval of the loan will be made by the full HMDA board.

We're very excited over these prospects which are part of our support for the Americas Best Communities competition that the mayor outlined and we're happy to be able to assist with that," HMDA Executive Director Tom Bell said.

This past August, a three member subcommittee was formed to investigate all angles of a purchase and make a recommendation on how the board should proceed.

Bell said the process has been longer than expected but the major reason HMDA has continued to pursue the development of this ares is to create jobs

"Our whole purpose it to create jobs and solicit private investments in the city," he said.

Once the property is acquired, Alan Letton, president of Huntington-based polymer conversion company Rubberlite Inc., has said his company intends to partner with the city of Huntington and Marshall University to build an advanced research and development center on the site.

The advanced polymer center would focus mainly on research and development of new products, and getting those products into the marketplace for distribution, allowing Rubberlite to continue to grow while attracting other industry.

Rubberlite manufactures foams and rubber for a wide range of applications.

In other business, Bell announced that HMDA has offered a contract to Asphalt Contractors and Site Work of Lavallette to start work on the TIF 2 project at Kinetic Park which consists of building a retention pond, doing slope repair and water diversion.

The TIF 2 project also includes beautification of the entrance area and placement of signage. Bell said the contractors are waiting to start work until the grounds dries up and does not know how long the work is expected to take.

Members of the HMDA board entered into executive session for nearly an hour on matters involving or affecting the purchase, sale or lease of property, advance construction planning, the investment of public funds or other matters involving commercial competition.

No action was taken in executive session.

Officials get into revitalization details

Herald-Dispatch - May 5, 2016

HUNTINGTON - Economic development officials came together Wednesday in Huntington to talk specifics as the city continues its work toward moving forward in the America's Best Communities competition.

An economic development roundtable meeting was hosted by Huntington Mayor Steve Williams with U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and several other local economic development, business and civic leaders at the Marshall University Visual Arts Center in downtown.

"We wanted to remind those who are familiar with the Huntington Innovation Plan about some of the details and that we have 11 months to make substantial progress," Williams said. "Every person here is involved in one segment or another of it. We have a lot of heavy lifting to do and we will be calling on them."

Last week, Huntington was announced as one of eight communities to advance to the final round of the competition and have a chance to win $3 million toward implementing an economic revitalization plan. By becoming a finalist, the city received $100,000.

"This is the culmination of all our hard work," Williams said, crediting the more than 25 individuals and 80 volunteer groups who have contributed to the projects."

Huntington is actively working on several projects, but the mayor believes the four priority ones presented in the revitalization plan will transform the city.

"The goal is transformation, and not competition," Williams said.

The plan focuses on transforming struggling neighborhoods and blighted spaces into hubs for advanced technology and manufacturing. It focuses on three key initiatives in Highlawn, Fairfield and the West End and how they can be linked with high-speed broadband.

The Highlawn Brownfield Site plan calls for a $1 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to acquire the Ingram Barge site and a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean it up as items are identified in the assessment grant.

The Fairfield Innovation Corridor calls for a formation of an Alliance and Choice Neighborhood Grant Work Group, help from Jenkins on approval of the redevelopment plan for Northcott Court public housing by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with a $2 million Choice Neighborhood Grant.

The West End plan calls for a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration to complete the build-out of the West Edge Factory as well as local fundraising as required under the grant.

For the implementation of broadband, known in HIP as Gigabit City, Huntington will look to partner with private-sector broadband developers as well as secure funding for the expected $24 million project. The city will have to create an ordinance that fosters and allows high-speed broadband to be constructed, put out bids for public and private partnerships and obtain a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to construct.

After 11 months, the city will be judged in the America's Best Communities competition on achievement of short-term tactics, community engagement and sustainable community revitalization in the long term.

"The beauty of the competition is that it helps us accelerate the timetable of getting the Highlawn Brownfield site redeveloped, getting Northcott Court and Hal Greer Boulevard redeveloped, getting the West Edge Factory building up and moving and getting high-speed broadband here with our Gigabit City initiative," Williams said.

Jenkins said he asked the mayor to host the economic roundtable discussion.

"I wanted to bring people together that are key stakeholders in ABC competition," Jenkins said. "I wanted to talk about the long-range vision together that includes health care, tourism and economic development. I wanted everyone sitting in the same room with a common commitment to moving our community and region ahead."

Jenkins said the ABC competition is a nice rallying point.

"Really, this is an opportunity to put our best foot forward, while also building for the future," he said. "That is the real mission here."

Jenkins said roundtable discussions like the one held Tuesday help him when trying to get federal funds appropriated for projects.

"In every one of the pieces of the puzzle that we are putting into place locally, there is a role to play for a federal entity," he said. "Whether it is the Economic Development Authority, Environmental Protection Agency or the Housing Urban Development Authority, they get funding from the Appropriations Committee I serve on. This dialogue makes sure my office is fully engaged in accessing the resources the federal government has to offer."

Huntington advances in competition

Herald-Dispatch - April 28, 2016

HUNTINGTON - "Make no little plans." That was the mantra for Huntington Mayor Steve Williams going into the America's Best Communities Summit, and it paid off. Huntington was announced as one of eight communities that will advanced to final round of the America's Best Communities competition Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina, and remains in the running for a chance to win $3 million.

"I am so proud of what we have accomplished," Williams said in a call Wednesday to The Herald- Dispatch. "This affirms to people in Huntington just what their worth is and that they can compete against anybody in the nation. Even with all the of the nonsense of being the unhealthiest, or the level of the opioid addiction, to be able to say the we're a finalist in the ABC competition is an affirmation to everyone in Huntington that we don't ever have to hang our head around anyone."During the summit, Williams presented the city's revitalization plan, also known as the Huntington Innovation Project, or HIP, which outlined four projects and ideas that will help jumpstart the local economy and enhance quality of life.

It focuses on transforming struggling neighborhoods and blighted spaces into hubs for advanced making and manufacturing. The plan focuses on three key initiatives in the Highlawn, Fairfield and West End neighborhoods and how they can be linked with high-speed broadband. The seven other finalists that will compete with Huntington for the $3 million grand prize are Chicago Lakes Area, Minnesota; Darrington/Arlington, Washington; Lake Havasu City, Arizona; Madison, Indiana; Statesboro, Georgia; Tualatin, Oregon; and Valley County/Meadows Valley, Idaho. The eight communities will receive $100,000 and 11 months to put their revitalization plan into action. Williams said he intends to leverage the $100,000 in order to entice additional support for each of the projects.

"We have done a lot already (on the projects) but now the clock is ticking and in the next 11 months we need to show the progress that we're making," he said. "Over the next 11 months we have a whole slew of steps that we are ready to take on each of the projects."After the 11 months, the city will be judged on achievement of short-term tactics, community engagement and sustainable community revitalization. Each category will be worth four points. The community with the highest score will be named America's Best Community and receive $3 million. Second place will receive $2 million and third $1 million. The winners will be announced April 26, 2017.

"America's Best Communities prize campaign challenged small towns and cities across the country to dream big and pave their own way to a brighter future," said Maggie Wilderotter, former CEO of Frontier Communications, in a release. "More than 350 communities answered the call, and now eight remain in the running. In these determined, hardworking communities, people from all walks of life came together to successfully reimagine their future and reinvigorate their community. And in the end, we all win, because the wealth of creative ideas coming from this contest will be implemented and shared with communities across the country."

Charleston and Portsmouth, Ohio, did not advance into the finals, but they were each awarded $25,000 at the ABC Summit to pursue several initiatives included in their revitalization plans. The competition is sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel. About 350 communities entered the competition in 2015.

Welcome back celebration

In the same fashion that they left they will return. Community members will have the chance welcome home and congratulate Huntington's America's Best Communities leadership team at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, April 28, at the Huntington Tri-State Airport. Mayor Steve Williams and other team members will speak about their experience at the summit and their plans for moving forward in the competition.

City gets $50K to help spur growth

Herald-Dispatch - September 16, 2015

HUNTINGTON - City officials in Huntington are hoping to turn an investment from Frontier Communications into an investment in the city's future.

The city of Huntington was presented with a $50,000 check from Frontier while being recognized as a quarterfinalist in the America's Best Communities competition during a luncheon Tuesday at The Cellar Door downtown.

The check was presented by Kathleen Abernathy, executive vice president of regulatory and government affairs for Frontier.

"I was so excited when we drove into the downtown area and saw all of the creativity as far as shops and restaurants, like the one we're in now," said Abernathy, who lives and works in Washington, D.C., and at Frontier's corporate office in Connecticut. "I didn't know what to expect, and I was very excited about everything this community has to offer in the downtown area."

Huntington was one of four locations in West Virginia to be named as a quarterfinalist in the contest. The other cities were Charleston, Fairmont and Jackson County. There were a total of 50 quarterfinalists that made it past the first round of competition, which drew more than 350 applicants, said Abernathy, who is the director of the competition.

The quarterfinalists will have six months to turn that $50,000 into a more refined version of the original plans presented to Frontier during the first round, Abernathy said. The winner will then receive $3 million to initiate the project that impresses the judges in the third and final round of competition.

Abernathy said Huntington submitted three plans that dealt with revitalizing specific areas of the city and enhancing job growth, but the city would have to take this opportunity to refine just one of the plans to submit for the next round. During Tuesday's event, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said he was confident in the city's ability to come together for the contest and even joked that the luncheon was a practice run for when the city wins the competition.

"This is highly significant," Williams said. "For what we've been able to do so far, we do believe we're winners so far. Because we've entered the competition, we have groups in the community that are working together in such a way that I don't know that we would have been able to muster everything together if not for this competition."

The competition is being operated by Frontier and is co-sponsored by DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel.

The goal is to stimulate growth and revitalization in small cities and towns throughout the 27 states that are within Frontier's footprint, Abernathy said.