By JOSEPHINE MENDEZ
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — With only a week remaining in the America’s Best Communities competition, local, state and federal leaders are taking to social media to show their support for Huntington.
During this final push to the finish line, support for the city’s effort can be seen throughout Huntington. The marquee at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center wishes the city good luck in the competition and a banner hanging over 8th Street between 4th and 5th avenues reminds residents that Huntington is America’s Best Community.
Several state and federal officials have also stepped up to explain why Huntington deserves the title of America’s Best Community.
“Huntington is a resilient community that has never let a challenge hold it back,” Sen. Joe Manchin said in a YouTube video.
Huntington is competing with seven other communities vying for the title of America’s Best Community and a $3 million grand prize. The second-place community will receive $2 million and third will receive $1 million. The winners will be announced next week.
Besides Manchin, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Rep. Evan Jenkins and Gov. Jim Justice weighed in with videos encouraging all West Virginians to back Huntington in its pursuit of the prize.
“Huntington has so many possibilities, so much potential, so many opportunities,” Justice said in his video. “Huntington is such a great place. I encourage all West Virginians to join me now, and let’s show how a great West Virginia town can become America’s Best Community.”
The city’s communications director, Bryan Chambers, said community engagement has been a key component for the city since it embarked on this journey in 2015.
“We want to show the competition that our community supports our effort to revitalize Huntington,” he said. “From our perspective, this isn’t just a plan to revitalize Huntington. We feel that this plan … will transform the entire region.”
Community engagement is also one of the categories the city is being judged on, along with the achievement of short-term tactics and sustainable community revitalization.
As part of the competition, the city leaders developed a revitalization plan, also known as the Huntington Innovation Project (HIP), which outlines four projects and ideas that are aimed at jump-starting the local economy and enhance quality of life.
The plan focuses on three key initiatives in the Highlawn, Fairfield and West End neighborhoods and how they can be linked with high-speed broadband.
The winner of the competition will be announced Wednesday, April 19, at an event in Denver after the communities have presented their revitalization plans.
Chambers said city leaders from Huntington will present their plan at 10 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time (noon Eastern). The winners will be announced later that night during a live-streamed presentation on the ABC Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AmericasBestCommunities.
“Win, lose or draw, our revitalization plan will move forward,” Chambers said. “We are optimistic and hopeful we will win the grand prize, but it will not make or break our revitalization plan that we have put in place.”
Since the start of the competition, Chambers said the city has leveraged more than $12.7 million for its revitalization plan.
In order to convey the progress being made on the HIP plan, the city has teamed up with the Appalachiavators, a group of Talented and Gifted (TAG) students from Cabell County Schools, as well as Marshall University students to create a video presentation that will be presented to the judges on April 19.
Led by Joe Murphy, president of Trifecta Productions, and aided by drones, students shot video of all the locations mentioned in the HIP plan and then helped weave the shots together.
“It was great to see (elementary school) students teaching college seniors about flying drones and the college seniors teaching the (elementary) students about cinematography,” he said. “No matter what, we feel like we’ve won because we’ve engaged the community on so many levels.”
Cabell County Schools TAG teacher Meghan Salter said she could not have been more thrilled to have her students play a role in the competition.
“It’s really empowering for them to know that they are making a difference and that they have a voice,” she said.
Salter said the students have also taken it upon themselves to make their own video and signs explaining why Huntington is America’s Best Community.
To join the conversation, Chambers said residents can chime in on social media by sharing pictures and videos and using the tag #ABC8 and #makenolittleplans.
The HIP plan can be viewed on the city’s website under the America’s Best Communities tab.
The competition is sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel and began in 2015 with about 350 communities.
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