On April 19, 2017, Huntington proudly claimed the title of "America's Best Community" after being named the $3 million grand prize winner in the America's Best Communities competition, a community revitalization campaign sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel.
The announcement brought to a close a nearly three-year contest that attracted entries from more than 350 communities nationwide and served as a catalyst for those communities to develop bold revitalization plans. It also marked the beginning of a new chapter of innovation and progress in Huntington.
The America’s Best Communities competition was launched in September 2014 and aimed to inspire growth in small towns and rural communities. It challenged local leaders to bring their residents and key officials together to envision a stronger future and build a strategy to improve lives.
In Huntington, that effort, which included input from hundreds of residents, businesses, nonprofit organizations and faith-based leaders, resulted in a document known as the Huntington Innovation Project (HIP). It is broken into four parts, three of which are devoted to specific neighborhoods.
The West End will be revived through its "River-to-Rail Revitalization" initiative. This will be supported by the innovative social enterprise project at the West Edge Factory, which will put dislocated workers into new, highly-skilled jobs through a solar-training institute, craft furniture-making operation, and other job-training programs. Along with this economic development, Huntington will revitalize traditional neighborhoods with healthy-food initiatives at The Wild Ramp and Central City Farmer's Market; modern housing; and main street renewal along 14th Street West.
In the Fairfield neighborhood, plans include transforming the former Northcott Court housing complex into a mixed-use property with a grocery store, retail shops, and apartments, making Hal Greer Boulevard safer for pedestrians, renovating old homes to create safe, affordable housing, and expanding the A.D. Lewis Community Center.
This trio of initiatives will be connected by the fourth component of the plan – the deployment of high-speed broadband through the “Gigabit City” initiative.
As Huntington advanced through the America’s Best Communities competition – first to the round of 50 quarterfinalists, then to the round of 15 semifinalists, and lastly to the round of 8 finalists -- it became apparent that this plan was more ambitious than those submitted by other communities. So ambitious, in fact, that a representative from Frontier suggested that the city pare down its focus. The suggestion prompted Huntington’s America’s Best Communities leadership team to make a decision in the days before the America’s Best Communities Summit in April 2016 in Durham, North Carolina – should they narrow the plans or move forward with an “all-or-nothing” approach? Mayor Steve Williams was undeterred and stressed to the leadership team that he would rather withdraw from the competition than whittle it down.
The decision led Huntington’s leadership team to adopt a “make no little plans” mantra. Williams carried the message into his presentation before the panel of judges at the ABC Summit in Durham.
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood,” Williams told the judges’ panel before venturing into a highly-visual presentation assembled by Joe Murphy, then-president of Trifecta Productions. “These were the words spoken by the renowned architect Daniel Burnham. And now, they are the mantra of Huntington, West Virginia.”
Williams and his leadership team learned later that day that Huntington would advance to the America’s Best Communities finals with seven other communities and earn the right to compete for the $3 million grand prize. It also meant Huntington had 11 months before the announcement of the grand prize winner to show progress on its plan in three areas – short-term success, community engagement and potential for long-term sustainability.
Between April 2016 and the grand prize announcement in Denver in April 2017, Huntington unveiled the Highlawn Brownfields Innovation Zone plan and acquired properties that were critical to those plans.
Fairfield, meanwhile, saw the formation of the Fairfield Alliance, a group made up of community members, faith-based leaders and representatives from Cabell Huntington Hospital and Marshall University, and the beginnings of a massive transformation.
In the West End, the Coalfield Development Corp., which was renovating the former Corbin Ltd. garment factory building into the West Edge Factory, began retraining laid-off coal miners and manufacturing workers to install solar panels. The West End’s River to Rail Committee also obtained funding to plant trees, make much-needed repairs to the Boys & Girls Club on 14th Street West and create murals.
Huntington City Council also approved a “dig-once” policy, requiring workers to lay conduit for future fiber-optic lines anytime they repaired a water or sewer line.
Huntington’s leadership team was also able to show its ability to leverage additional resources for these projects through municipal commitments, innovative financing, grassroots fundraising, philanthropic contributions, federal grants, and investments from state government and the private sector. From the launch of the ABC competition in 2014 to the grand prize announcement in April 2017, Huntington secured more than $12.7 million for its revitalization.
The progress made over that 11-month period and the bold vision laid out in the revitalization plan was enough to convince the judges to select Huntington as the grand prize winner when the eight finalists gathered for the last time in Denver, Colorado, on April 19, 2017.
All of the prize money and community donations from the America’s Best Communities competition are now in the hands of the Foundation for the Tri-State Community, Inc., a nonprofit, tax-exempt philanthropic corporation, and will be used to advance Huntington’s revitalization plan.
To learn more about each projet please click on the icons at the top of this page.
The award money, as well as any funds donated from individuals/businesses/organizations, is given to the Foundation for the Tri-State Community, our region’s community foundation that controls the allocation of the funds to the projects as required by competition parameters.
Donations may also be made by check. Please make payable to The Foundation for the Tri-State Community, Inc.
Their address is:
Foundation for the Tri-State Community, Inc.
916 5th Avenue, Suite 403
P.O. Box 7932
Huntington, WV 25779-7932
Please put "ABC Fund" as well as the specific project name in the memo line.