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Economic ideas emerge as meetings end

Dec. 13, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- A wide range of ideas to help foster economic development in Huntington bubbled to the surface during a meeting Wednesday at City Hall.

The meeting was the last for Mayor-elect Steve Williams' economic development transition committee before it and three other committees offer their findings to Williams on Dec. 20. The other committees are focused on city finances, public safety and public works. Williams has asked each committee to identify the most important issue in their field of study.

The following is a summary of the concerns, ideas and suggestions presented during the economic development transition committee meeting:

BROADBAND: City officials must work on bringing high-speed broadband to Huntington if they want to attract higher-quality jobs, said Brad Kalinoski, co-owner of Exodus FX, a visual effects company based in Huntington.

Kalinoski, a Huntington native who has worked on visual effects for such movies as "Captain America," "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan," said he probably wouldn't have started a production company in his hometown if it weren't for the personal connection. With co-workers based in California, Texas, Maine and Europe, Kalinoski relies on the quick transmission of large digital files on a daily basis. He may have no choice but to leave in a few years if broadband access remains an impediment to his business, he said.

"I just recently had meetings with people from Warner Bros. and Disney and their first question was 'What is the status of broadband in Huntington?' " he said.

TOURISM: Tyson Compton, executive director of the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, stressed that tourism is a large part of economic development in the city. The industry brought in $133 million in Cabell County and was responsible for 1,520 jobs and $33.9 million in payroll, he said.

Compton also said the city should consider opening a local film office. It's an idea the CVB has been working on with Huntington-based Trifecta Productions, he said.

"The CVB would strongly support it if it became a possibility," Compton said. "It would put us above other cities in West Virginia and let the film industry know that we're serious."

ARTS: Byron Clercx, chairman of the Department of Art and Design at Marshall University, said Marshall's Visual Arts Center will be a "difference-maker" for downtown Huntington when it moves into the former Stone & Thomas building on 3rd Avenue. Clercx said he visited four other college towns in Georgia, Massachusetts and North Dakota with similar centers and found the infusion of fine arts students boosted the cultural development of their downtowns.

"Absolutely 100 percent of the people I talked to said it changed their downtown's economy and the streetscapes, and it invited private investment," Clercx said.

There's also an effort to get Huntington designated on the state level as a certified arts community, Clercx said. Doing so will help the community obtain small business grants and use external resources which otherwise wouldn't be available, he said.

Clercx also recommended that the city implement a public arts policy. It's a common policy in other cities across the country and establishes a protocol for how creative works are designed and displayed in public venues, he said.

STRONGER IMAGE: Several presenters during the meeting spoke of a need for Huntington to launch a campaign to improve its image. Rather than reacting to negative stories about the region, key officials in the public and private sectors should be promoting Huntington's strengths, Compton said.

He added that the CVB, Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Area Development Council, Marshall, Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary's Medical Center are resurrecting a "public relations committee" which will meet monthly.

"Huntington has a lot of what everyone is looking for, but it has to be sold and put together in a package," Kalinoski said.

BUSINESS LIAISON: A handful of speakers said the city should consider hiring someone or working with outside agencies to improve the licensing and permitting process for businesses when they come to City Hall. The suggestion has come up during previous transition meetings.

Kalinoski said trying to find information about local tax incentives was a tedious process when he moved back to Huntington.

Gail Patton, executive director of Unlimited Future Inc., said the small-business incubator would be willing to serve as a resource in helping the city become more business-friendly.

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