Written by Steve Williams, Mayor of the City of Huntington.
Even though a new year has arrived, for some of us it may feel as if we have just welcomed 2017 instead of 2018. Hopefully, as we anticipate the coming year, we are filled with a healthy combination of optimism and uncertainty.
The challenge that we all face in 2018 is how to react to the circumstances that will confront us. What do we want? We need to be honest with ourselves. And we need to be careful in what we want, because we will also be expected to take on a personal responsibility for the result we seek.
To rephrase a common refrain, whether you think that present circumstances and opportunities are good or whether you think they are bad, you’re probably right. Luckily, for most of us, the new year will provide us the opportunities we expect.
Since I am unpacking old clichés, let me bring one more out of the box. We are often asked, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” I have a completely different take. I believe the glass is always full. When the glass is filled half way with water, the empty portion is full of air. Air, as you know, is hydrogen and oxygen. If those components are formulated and combined into the proper proportion of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen…water will begin to fill the glass to the brim. Thus, depending on how we look at it, the glass is always full.
Fortunately, over the past three years many in our community and region fully accepted personal responsibility. Culminating in 2017, hundreds of Huntington-area residents answered the call to help our region with a level of response that still boggles the imagination. In all, 352 communities around the nation created local economic revitalization plans as part of America’s Best Communities (ABC) Competition.
The competition, which was sponsored by Frontier Communications, CoBank, DISH Network, and the Weather Channel, challenged Communities to devise an economic revitalization plan that would evaluate communities on their short-term accomplishments, community involvement, and long-term sustainability.
Communities with populations of less than 80,000 spanning from Georgia to Washington State and Arizona to Pennsylvania submitted their ideas, and a panel of professionals across the nation and from various disciplines reviewed them. Huntington area residents came together and worked over the three-year period of the competition to create an economic revitalization plan that would connect our entire city—specifically the Highlawn, Fairfield, and West End neighborhoods—by a virtual ribbon of high speed broadband.
In April 2017, when the winner of the competition was announced, our City’s “Huntington Innovation Project (HIP)” was announced as the winner! This honor came with the designation of “America’s Best Community;” and, best of all, a $3 million award to be used for the implementation of the plan. In 2018 our citizens and community will begin to reap the rewards of winning this very prestigious ABC Award.
While this is an amazing accomplishment that should make every resident of the area burst with pride, it does not mean that our community is without challenges. All communities face difficulties, and every one of us can elicit a list of problems facing our community. But in the midst of our difficulties, it is within our power to choose to see the glass as full. Focusing our energies on our strongest attributes will allow opportunities to flourish.
Huntington has so many pluses: it is situated along the Ohio River; it has a dynamic downtown that is active in redevelopment; it has a major regional medical center; and it is home to Marshall University, which allows us to claim the whole Herd Nation as our own.
Marshall University is the heart beat of Huntington. The University is completing plans for the development of a home for its Pharmacy School. Expected to begin in earnest on Hal Greer Boulevard in 2018, this location near Marshall and the MU Medical School, plus Cabell Huntington Hospital, will provide the Fairfield neighborhood countless opportunities.
The diverse mix of retail and commercial businesses have transformed Huntington’s downtown into a vibrant and exciting place to live and work. Investors are actively seeking acquisition of vacant buildings for redevelopment. New buildings, renovated old buildings, the increased presence of Marshall University’s academic programs, and streetscapes designed by students studying at the University’s Visual Arts Center have all contributed to this wonderful occurrence. In addition, the WV Legislature’s passage of adjustments to the historic tax credit program promises major announcements and activity in 2018.
Possibilities for growth are all around us. Did you know that the Port of Huntington is the largest inland water port in the nation? It is continually busy transporting coal, chemicals, and goods up and down the river. The Highlawn area, a lovely neighborhood nestled along the Ohio River, has 70+ acres of long underused industrial property that separates Highlawn from Marshall University. The Huntington Municipal Development Authority has taken an option on 26 acres of unused industrial property and is preparing plans to engineer utilities and roads so the property can attract enterprises that will utilize the technical expertise of Marshall’s programs.
In addition, Huntington is poised to reveal private investments in technological advances that will enable our city to compete with any city in the world. Partnerships with Marshall, with Federal agencies through the assistance of our Congressional delegation, with Governor Justice’s administration, and with private investors provide opportunities that will enable both research & development and commercial & recreational development of long underutilized areas.
If all these things were to take place, our city would see more activity than it has experienced in decades. Then again, only a portion could begin. The crystal ball for 2018 simply says that the components are present for an active year – the great potential for a glass full. Potential becomes probability when possibility is embraced.
Here’s to a 2018 that enables us to conquer our challenges and embrace our possibilities.