Create Huntington calls on citizens
HUNTINGTON -- Huntington needs an army of dedicated volunteers if it wants to overcome challenges identified in a long-term strategic plan, according to a community development expert.
"You are the core of change, but you can't move Huntington forward with this number," Vaughn Grisham told an audience of about 80 people Monday night at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. "You have so many skilled, bright people. You have a real chance to lead the state of West Virginia."
Grisham, a sociology professor at the University of Mississippi, was the keynote speaker for the official release of the city's strategic plan to Create Huntington. The group is a citizen-driven initiative that brings stakeholders together to improve the city.
The plan is the culmination of an analysis of existing reports and data, community survey (about 400 people participated) and brainstorming sessions involving Marshall University, businesses, residents and government officials. The work was performed by Collective Impact of Rochester, Pa., last fall.
The focus of the 38-page plan identifies eight issues that the city needs to focus on: health and well-being; community infrastructure; development resources; culture and quality of life; natural resources; social capital; image and attitude; and system effectiveness.
Rather than delve into details about the report, Bruce Decker, a consultant with Collective Impact, asked the audience to form focus groups about each issue. Audience members were encouraged to join the cause that interested them most.
Each group appointed two team leaders who will lead meetings during the summer. The groups will meet again in September for a progress report.
The focus groups for culture and quality of life and image and attitude garnered the most interest, about 15 people each. The attraction to image and attitude didn't come as a surprise to Decker.
"It was so profound when the data came in from the surveys," he said. "We immediately saw that image and attitude was something we needed to work on here."
Survey respondents indicated that there is a lack of pride in Huntington and little hope about the future, residents don't take action to address concerns and innovative approaches are rarely sought, Decker said.
Brian Hoey, a Huntington resident and anthropology professor at Marshall University for about two years, said he also views Huntington's low self-opinion as an issue. When he first visited Huntington two years ago, he got a sense that people were reluctant to take on a challenge.
"On the other hand, I saw a hell of a lot of potential, so I took a chance," he said. "That's still the word for me that describes Huntington -- potential. But I'm starting to see a yielding of results because our social capital is actually getting mobilized."
In his closing remarks, Grisham stressed to the audience that a commitment to improving education, particularly early childhood education, has to be a central part of Huntington's long-term plan.
Just like the agricultural economy began to fade in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, the U.S. manufacturing base is giving way to a knowledge-based economy that relies on some form of educational training, he said.
"You have assets that put you far ahead of most communities in West Virginia," Grisham said. "Morgantown can rival you or surpass you. But there's no reason why you can't do extremely well building off of Marshall and your community and technical college."