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Huntington Wins America’s Best Community


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The city of Huntington won first place and the $3 million dollar prize on Wednesday when the city was named as America’s Best Community among eight semi-finalists. Mayor Steve Williams and a contingent of Huntington leaders made the trip to Denver, Colorado, for the award presentations on Wednesday evening, an event streamed live back to the city and a party that watched at Trifecta Productions at the Kindred-Capital Building at 555 Fifth Avenue.

Huntington is poised to become a gateway for revitalization in the Appalachian region, as it executes its Huntington Innovation Project (HIP) Plan, which aims to transform distressed neighborhoods, where the old manufacturing and coal-sector economy has declined, into hip hubs for advanced manufacturing, innovative maker spaces and entrepreneurial incubators, healthcare businesses and green community improvements.

Huntington Facebook wins ABC

The city of Huntington wins first place and $3 million by being named as America’s Best Community, led by Steve Williams, Mayor of Huntington (center, red-white-blue tie) (courtesy Huntington Facebook)

“On behalf of all Huntingtonians who worked so hard on this endeavor, we are honored and excited to be named America’s Best Community,” Williams said after learning the city had finished first and won the top prize. “Our citizens should stand proud.”

“We have been aggressive with our aspirations. 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.

“Lastly, we are extremely grateful to Frontier Communications, CoBank, DISH Network and The Weather Channel, which sponsored the America’s Best Communities competition. This competition has put the spotlight on small towns across the country and has proven to be a tool to move forward rapidly with our plans to strengthen the economic vitality of our communities.

“We make no little plans in Huntington. We aspire. We believe. We commit.”

Huntington’s America’s Best Communities leadership team is scheduled to arrive at Tri-State Airport at 2:45 p.m. today, April 20. We are inviting the community to come to the airport to welcome them home. Members of our leadership team will also be available for interviews at that time.

About 350 communities entered the competition. The field was narrowed to 50 in the quarterfinals, 15 in the semifinals and down eight finalists. Communities advanced in the competition based on the effectiveness of the revitalization plans developed, fine-tuned and implemented over the course of the three-year competition.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona, was second and will receive $2 million for the home of London Bridge while Statesboro, Georgia was third and the home of Georgia Southern University will receive $1 million.

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

America's Best Communities-1

“When we launched America’s Best Communities, we hoped to inspire revitalization in small towns and cities across rural America. As we celebrate the culmination of the campaign, it feels like a dream fulfilled,” said Maggie Wilderotter, former CEO of Frontier Communications and the catalyst behind the competition. “After three years of hard work, and from a pool of about 350 communities, three communities have earned the title of ‘America’s Best’ — and we’re thrilled to extend our congratulations. With hard work and determination, they have forever changed the trajectory of their communities. The America’s Best Communities prize grants they’ve secured will help them continue on the path to prosperity.”

“We’ve served rural America during our entire 36-year history, and we’ve been proud to be part of this effort to inspire innovation in rural communities,” said DISH President and Chief Operating Officer Erik Carlson. “We hope each community’s story and revitalization strategy will serve as inspiration for other rural towns that seek to pursue their own positive change.”

“These communities have developed innovative ideas that can be emulated in other rural areas to jumpstart growth, jobs and economic resurgence,” said Robert B. Engel, retired CEO and Senior Advisor, CoBank. “As a financial institution dedicated to supporting America’s rural economy, we commend all the ABC participants for the enormous efforts they have made and the leadership they have shown in bringing their vision for a better future to reality.”

“In covering major weather events across the nation, The Weather Channel has told memorable, compelling stories; often about small, rural towns which are often impacted the most by weather. We are inspired by revival stories of the small towns and cities that competed in America’s Best Communities,” said Dave Shull, CEO of The Weather Channel. “They’ve faced tough times, but they refused to give in. They saw an opportunity to improve their community, and they worked hard to make it happen. Congratulations to all of the communities that entered this competition.”

“When I’m on tour, I travel across America’s heartland. I’ve visited some of the hardest-hit small towns, and I’ve gotten to know the people who call those places home,” said Vince Gill, ambassador for the competition and country music legend. “They’re hardworking, resilient people, and America’s Best Communities has proven that when an opportunity presents itself, rural communities will rise to the challenge and find innovative ways to create a better future for themselves and their neighbors.”

Huntington Facebook ABC visits 14th St

The ABC committee visited Huntington’s Central City during the run up of Huntington being named as the winner of the America’s Best Community and the $3 million first prize. (courtesy Huntington Facebook)


Here is the text by Huntington Mayor Steve Williams during his final presentation in Denver, Colorado:

“Eight vastly different communities…all sharing a common bond.  Naturally, we aspire to be named America’s Best Community…we feel a competitive urge to be named the BEST!

“Our collective populations are 212,186 residents. Our combined population would rank us 100th in population. The smallest among us in population is 9,606 and the largest is 54,161. Our average population is 26,523. We define the best of small town America.

“Population does not define us. Population does not define our capability. Population does not define our opportunity. We do not rely on an economy of scale…we rely on personal ingenuity and fortitude.

“We face the same difficulties that confront the rest of the nation. Economic upheaval, public health concerns, societal adjustments…all challenges that cause communities, families, and individuals to question the strength of the fabric of our nation. There is greatness in America’s small communities. We refuse to be defined by our difficulties…but we do endeavor to define our opportunities.

“An ancient maxim lives in successful communities…small or large. If you can define your challenge, you can own your opportunity. If you own your opportunity, then you can determine your destiny.

“It has been a year since we 8 communities became intertwined in our collective efforts to construct programs of revitalization and transformation for our communities. We are inextricably tied to one another for the foreseeable future.

“Much has happened to our nation since we last gathered. The stability of our most treasured institutions and traditions have been exposed and challenged. A nation’s dismay an the question of hope has been laid bare.

“We are a nation of communities…a nation of small communities. Even the largest cities are nothing more than an accumulation of neighborhoods joining together to form a social fabric to allow life to proceed.

“The advantage in small communities such as ours, while we do not possess the economy of scale of much larger cities…we possess the nimbleness to identify more quickly how to address the challenges of economic diversity and in turn, just as quickly establish what strategies need fine tuning to determine eventual success.

“We are the laboratories for social and economic discovery. We establish the necessary foundation to restore hope to our nation.

“The challenge that we were given with this competition was to put together a redevelopment strategy for our communities.  With eight different communities we have eight vastly different strategies … but what we are ultimately seeking and what we’ve learned is that our redevelopment plan is more than mortar and brick…more than redeveloping land and factories … more than cables and fibers … and more than trophies and prize money … it is about offering hope to those in our community who are willing to grab it.

“But how? Is there a magic formula?  We have learned that there are 300+ grand experiments that have been undertaken across the country in the America’s Best Communities Campaign.

“Eight of us gather together to represent the hopes and aspirations of all who dream big dreams in our nation.

“In Huntington, these past 3 years we have discovered the ABC Experience.The ABC experience …Aspire … Believe … Commit.

“The best communities in America are communities that ASPIRE to levels of success that others dare not imagine. The best communities in America reflect the American Dream that we can accomplish anything if we BELIEVE we can and Believe in each other. The best communities in America are not content to dream of a brighter future; they are willing to COMMIT their heart, their minds, and their souls to the betterment of their community.

“The best communities in America are resilient. They fight through economic upheaval, natural disasters, health crises, and other casualties beyond their control. There is no such thing as a great community that has no troubles. Their greatness is not defined by the absence of difficulty, but in the manner in which they join together to overcome troubled times.

“They link innovation and aggressiveness in instilling hope for a community…no matter whether it is investing in a regional research center or fighting the ravages of a public health crisis. Innovation and aggressiveness defines how every opportunity and challenge is confronted. America’s Best Communities live and work the ABC experience … aspire, believe, and commit.

“When we were last together I shared with you our plan.  The Huntington Innovation Project, or HIP.  The words of renowned architect Daniel Burnham, ‘Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood,’ became our mantra.

“We set forth developing four major projects … We aspired to create ambitious projects that would not only transform one neighborhood and not just our community. But an entire region.

“We live in a region of our nation that is overlooked and discounted. Because of our rural mountain culture we are considered to be backward and unenlightened. Yet, in our DNA, we know that we represent the backbone of our nation. Our energy economy is transforming and we find ourselves staring down an existential public health crisis that threatens the future of our nation.

“We aspire to confirm to ourselves and to show the nation that a city with scarce resources but with an abundance of talent and determination can begin to set an example that others will seek to follow.

“Citizens who choose to stand shoulder to shoulder trust one another, can aspire to be the bright shining light in a world of dimming expectations.

“Hope is alive in Huntington, W.Va., and we aspire to show the country that as our nation regains its footing on the world economic stage and our economy begins to rebound … we in Appalachia and small town America choose not to wait for the nation to prosper so we may sip from the cup of success on the heels of our nation’s advancement … but rather, in reverse order the nation will advance on OUR coattails of prosperity and innovations developed in OUR small town America.

“Hence … the mantra, ‘Make No Little Plans,’ is aspirational. We’ve made great strides and progress with all our projects.  We have documented this progress in our report.  We are proud of the progress we’ve made …  but part of what we’ve learned… or maybe I should say we have been reminded … is that there is a fundamental key to any revitalization strategy that can’t be conveyed on paper … what can’t be defined in a report is what will truly revitalize Huntington … our people … our spirit … our renewed energy as we not only begin to aspire but to believe.

“We began to BELIEVE that full revitalization was possible when the plans being formulated in the board room…became active, living, breathing aspirations given life by individuals, neighbors, business and community and faith leaders. Our communities began to believe when they began to trust … when they began to understand that there was such a thing as a Common Good. By learning to dream and become aspirational together…our community discovered they could believe that together their hopes, dreams, and aspirations would be realized.

“Once the community … and all its component parts began to believe in their plan of revitalization and transformation … suddenly personal commitment began to unlock the gates of engagement. The $150,000 of prize money we won from the America’s Best Communities contest yielded over $12.7 million of corporate, philanthropic, state, and federal support.

“Seeds of collaboration and partnership have enabled the establishment of a culture of expectation — the ABC Experience … Aspire … Believe … Commit.

“The video (behind me) was produced through a collaboration of 9 and 10 year olds with college visual arts students at Marshall University. One 9-year old girl, named Emma, calculated that because of the culture of expectation that has arisen from the environment of collaboration and partnership…the scale of attainment from the $150,000 prize money that enabled $12.7 million of investment in our HIP Plan…if Huntington won 1st place and the $3 million … little Emma calculated on the same scale as the $150,000 prize – the $3 million would yield $260 million of investment. No pressure there!

“But … that is the reality of what we have discovered. ABC … Aspire, Believe, Commit

Make no mistake, this is not an easy process nor should it be. The strength of the steel is tempered by the fire. Thus, is the case of transformation and revitalization. What have we learned?

“Aspire — Dream dreams so big they make you hyperventilate. Robert Browning wrote, ‘A person’s reach should exceed your grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’

“Believe — Belief in one’s mission, Belief in one’s aspiration, Belief in one’s neighbor is the foundation to all success. Collaboration leads to partnership, partnership is the result of trust, the offspring of trust is action.

“Commit — Never give up. Always, always, always believe in the providential origins of your aspirations.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back always ineffectiveness.

In all acts of initiative and creation there is one elemental truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans.

“‘The moment one commits one’s self, providence moves too,’ W.H. Murray said. But our education would not be complete.Our mission will not be accomplished without acknowledging the mantle that has been placed upon us

“We have a responsibility a message to deliver to all who will hear … the size of your community does not define you or limit you. Your limits or if you will, the heights that you reach are programmed by the size of your dream.

“Aspire — Believe — Commit. Goethe’s wrote, ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.’

“Marshall University, in Huntington, W.Va., has a chant, made famous by the movie of the same name — “We Are…MARSHALL!”

“Today … in the same spirit …

  • Lake Havasu City, Arizona
  • Statesboro, Georgia
  • Valley County/Meadows Valley, Idaho
  • Madison, Indiana
  • Chisago Lakes Area, Minnesota
  • Tualatin, Oregon
  • Darrington/Arlington, Washington
  • Huntington, West Virginia…

“We all … Eight proud American communities, provide the quintessential example of the American Dream. We stand as one and proclaim:


About Woody Woodrum

Senior Editor and columnist/writer for Herd Insider since 2003, with Kindred Communications on radio for Marshall football/men's basketball pregame and postgame shows since 1996 and with First Sentry Bank Sportsline (Also Scott on Sports, Sideline Sports and Herd Insider Sportsline) since 1997. Married to Liz (12-22-1990) and one son, Tre' (11-7-1997). National Sportswriters & Sportscasters West Virginia Broadcaster of the Year winner for radio, 2000; won W.Va. Broadcasters Best Talk Show in 2013 with co-host Paul Swann and W.Va. Broadcasters Best Play-by-Play in 2015 with Jason Toy (Huntington at South Charleston, state AAA semifinals). Member of (College) Football Writers Association of America, (College) Basketball Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Color commentator for Marshall football (1999-2000), for Marshall basketball (2004-2016) and Marshall baseball (2004-2016). Color for high school football at Spring Valley (1999-2008), Cabell Midland (2009-2012) and Huntington (W.Va.) High School (2013-2016).

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