When I came to Huntington in 2014 it was merely at the beginning of what it has become and what it is still trying to do. That is to develop into the next city for college graduates and millennials to move to.
This has been a major issue for West Virginia as a state. How do we keep college students here after they graduate? With Huntington being centrally located between cities like Columbus, Cincinnati, and Lexington, what is keeping post grads here?
That is what Mayor Steve Williams and many proud locals have been trying to change. For those who are still new to Huntington it may be hard to see, but a much more local and grassroots approach has taken shape in Huntington.
This has led to local shops opening up offering better food and drinks, and a more vibrant downtown area. And with Huntington receiving a $3 million grant for winning the “America’s Best Communities” award, they have plans to use that on more revitalization projects.
So what makes Huntington a destination for young people? Well when looking at other cities that are now becoming very populated by millennials, you have to see what they offer. Asheville, NC may be the most comparable city currently.
In 1990 Asheville had around 10,000 more people than Huntington, both small Southern cities, but since then Asheville has steadily grown in population size, reaching around 87,000 people, whereas Huntington has slowly declined in population size. So what did Asheville do to become a popular destination?
According to an article written by James Fallows of the Atlantic, Asheville’s popularity didn’t just happen. Instead, it was a thirty-year process of finding what the city was good at, and revitalizing its downtown. The art and music community grew, along with breweries and businesses popping up around the area. Another factor that Asheville may be best known for is its outdoor experiences and the amazing hiking it offers.
Compare that to Huntington, which may not on the surface show these qualities, but offers many of the same attractions Asheville does. It has an amazing art community that Marshall is helping grow with the new Visual Arts Center right in the heart of downtown.
As for music, the Huntington music scene offers several local acts who have begun to receive national attention, along with events being held every week at different venues throughout the city. This fall will also bring the 8th Huntington Music and Arts Festival, which in the past has focused on local business and music.
And with the revitalization of the Huntington downtown area, it seems like all the pieces are falling into place for Huntington to become a destination for young people to call home. When you look at these other cities, property value has shot up as well. Asheville’s average home price is around $200,000, nearly $20,000 more than the national average.
Huntington has a sort of uniqueness to it that cities like Portland, OR and Austin, TX have been able capitalize on by embracing the slogan “Keep (city name) Weird.” Similarly, such a slogan invokes the same kind of pride in Huntington. So in the next year, look for Huntington to try and grow and expand on its strengths. And if you’re new to the area, embrace them and try and indulge in all of it.
Tom Jenkins can be contacted at [email protected]