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Mayor explores collaboration of cities

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 07:57 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Recent boundary changes to Huntington's and Charleston's metropolitan areas are a sign that West Virginia's two largest cities should start working together, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams says.

Williams is inviting Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, his administration and Charleston City Council to come to Huntington in the near future and meet with their counterparts to explore common ground.

"I was with (Jones) twice last week, and each time we talked about how we can promote good will and cooperation between our cities," Williams said. "It can only lead to accomplishing more together than we've ever been able to do separately."

The invitation comes in the wake of the federal Office of Management and Budget's delineation changes to the cities' metropolitan statistical areas. The OMB redraws the boundaries across the country every 10 years after the Census.

Lincoln and Putnam counties were shifted from the Charleston MSA to the Huntington-Ashland MSA, which already included Cabell and Wayne counties in West Virginia, as well as Lawrence County, Ohio, and Boyd and Greenup counties in Kentucky. The change gives the Huntington-Ashland MSA an additional 77,558 people, bringing the total population to more than 365,000.

The Charleston MSA's population dropped to 226,000 with Kanawha, Boone and Clay counties now part of it.

Both population density and commuting patterns typically factor into setting MSA boundaries. Officials with the West Virginia Development Office told The Herald-Dispatch in March that the Putnam County delineation change was a result of population density. Based on the county's recorded 2010 population, Putnam had 22,547 residents living in the western part of the county that is considered part of Huntington's urbanized area. That compares with 13,084 people who were living in the area that is considered Charleston's urbanized area, in the eastern end of Putnam County.

Despite commuting patterns that still head mostly to Charleston, Putnam's population density toward Huntington lumps it into the Huntington-Ashland MSA.

Lincoln County, meanwhile, was moved because of commuting patterns, according to the state Development Office.

Jones told The Charleston Gazette last week that the changes could only help the western end of the state and hurt Charleston. He also expressed concern that it could limit Charleston's ability to obtain certain federal grants.

"Somebody that's looking at it from afar could be reluctant to move (to Charleston)," Jones said.

While economic development officials in the Tri-State say adding population to the Huntington-Ashland MSA might help it attract large companies that are looking at market size, Williams says it's no reason to celebrate.

"The lesson here is that a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., with the slash of a pen can move two counties from one metropolitan area to the other," he said. "That tells me how close our markets are to becoming one."

Jones told The Herald-Dispatch on Tuesday that he is considering Williams' invitation and believes the meetings between administrations and councils could produce fruitful discussions on issues that both cities are dealing with, such as growth and development, pensions and infrastructure.

"I'm still not happy that our MSA was cut down and given to Huntington," Jones said. "But having said that, if you looked at Huntington and Charleston from Mars, you would see two urban areas with lots of growth in between. Some day, it will look like one big city."

Both mayors say they want to take advantage of a friendship that started when they served in the West Virginia House of Delegates together from 1988 to 1990 to move their cities forward. Neither view Huntington and Charleston as being in competition with each other. They both have regional medical centers, but Charleston has state government while Huntington has Marshall University, Williams said.

"We find ourselves competing against larger cities in the region," he said. "So why not unite and start acting and marketing ourselves like we are one region with 600,000-plus people? If we do that, our market is similar in size to a Cincinnati, Louisville or Memphis rather than communities that are a fraction of those metro areas."

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.



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