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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.