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Census: Huntington still 2nd-largest WV city

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON – Huntington maintained its status as the second-largest city in the state in 2016, despite losing population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimate released Thursday.

The data showed Huntington had a population estimated at 48,113 people as of July 1, 2016. That number reflects a population loss of 434 people during a one-year time frame. Huntington’s population was estimated to be 48,547 in 2015.

Huntington remained the second-largest city in West Virginia, with 1,025 people separating it and the state’s largest city, Charleston, which had an estimated population of 49,138 in 2016. According to the data, Charleston’s population fell by 615 between 2015 and 2016.

On Thursday, local officials said it was incumbent upon leaders to face Huntington’s problems head-on.

“We know we have to aggressively attack our problems to give people a reason to live in Huntington and in West Virginia, for that matter,” Bryan Chambers, communications director for the city of Huntington, said Thursday. “That’s why we have the Huntington Innovation Project and Community Revitalization Plan. We feel like this will not just transform the community, but it will give people a reason to move to and live in Huntington.”

The Huntington Innovation Project outlines four projects and ideas that are aimed at jump-starting the local economy and enhancing quality of life in three neighborhoods: the West End, Fairfield and Highlawn. It was the plan that culminated in the city’s successful participation in the America’s Best Communities competition.

Other data released Thursday showed Morgantown overtook Parkersburg as West Virginia’s third-largest city.

Morgantown’s population estimate for 2016 was 30,855, and Parkersburg’s was 30,601, according to the data.

Still, Greenup County, Kentucky, recently was selected as the location for a $1.3-billion investment for construction of an aluminum mill, which is expected to create 550 jobs – the kind of investment Huntington and state officials should be looking to cultivate in the Mountain State to attract more people, said Bill Bissett, president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“We have to ask the question now of how do we have access to that kind of private capital,” Bissett said. “Appalachia itself has suffered. The Huntington area has been a sort of manufacturing hub in the state, and there are areas here to grow that. It’s a big challenge.”

Bissett said there was real opportunity in Huntington for development of information technology startups, and he pointed out that Huntington is home to higher education institutions, namely Marshall University and Mountwest Community and Technical College.

“It’s really a multiphasic issue that you have to look at, not only why people are leaving but how to attract people,” he said. “It’s kind of a binary aspect to look at graduates from Marshall and MCTC and other post-secondary education resources and ask, ‘Why did they leave?’ I think that becomes the question. Is the post-secondary education that’s being pursued preparing students for opportunities here or opportunities elsewhere? That’s combined with how do we attract people here?”

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