What did you think about tonight’s conversation?

I think I realized the power of promotion. Everyone gets on social media and blobs and they talk about themselves and their project and they say well we need more people to know about what we’re doing. Something changed for me after the Create WV Conference, and I’ll tell you more about why I’m talking about that in a moment. It was a world-class gathering. It was fantastic. I was overly impressed with it. And every day I did a post about what happened there, the connections that were made, the people who stood up and said amazing things that were mind-altering.

And I started getting hits on these posts because I realized people back home were seeing it and getting hope that something different, new, and amazing could happen. And I realized that we should peddle hope. We should make our posts and promotions about the community. We should reach out and make it community-centric, because people are going to share things that intrigue them, that center upon them, and that are relevant to their lives.

I brought up Create WV because this gathering reminds me of that, in terms of both its quality, its scope, and the inspiration that comes from it. I was floored when I walked in. There were so many people here, and so incredibly engaged. Incredible ideas. The format is fantastic. It felt very professional, very guided. When you sense engagement  you know that there’s more behind the scenes, that people are feeling comfortable enough, like in a family setting, to communicate. And that’s a hard thing to accomplish and you guys really did a great job, no doubt. 

What did you talk about?

The first thing that we wound up beginning to talk about were drugs. It is a problem. We talked about the nature of that problem and how it’s endemic to the system. And that’s what we landed on was that the drug epidemic is a symptom of other larger underlying problems. And we can treat that symptom in the same way that you can treat pain with ibuprofen, but what you really need is physical therapy. We needed some more intensive work in the city. We needed some more intensive work in the bridges that need to be built.

When I answered my questionnaire I said this. It said what do you need in order to bring about these ideas that were spoken about today. We don’t need anything. We have everything we need. I haven’t heard anyone say that, but I feel that, especially coming from a gathering like this. We have consistent, strong leadership in the city that is engaged with every single thing that anyone aspires to do here. We have a city inspection services that are focused on fostering developments like ours, rather than simply enforcing the law. They want to help us into the future of our development.

We have some incredible resources here, both natural for the tourism industry. We have a beautiful, beautiful state. The problem is that so much of what you hear in the national media and otherwise are the issues and shortcomings, etc. Businesses hear that too. We have a self-esteem issue here. We have a lot going for us and we need to put those things that work front and center.

What’s your vision for Huntington’s economy?

I see a connected economy. I think that if there is any advancement in business, in the arts, in creativity, in reversing brain drain, that those benefits pay back into institutions of higher learning. They pay back into the government and the city through tax revenue and otherwise. They pay back into the populace through jobs, and hopefully jobs with good benefits. If these entities are set to benefit from a system like that, then the level of engagement is going to pick up. For instance, if we see that we have opportunities over here—and I look at even standing derelict housing as an opportunity for us to engage people in the community and create jobs—if we see that and we have people over here who need work, we need to figure out how to bridge that gap. We simply do. So when I close my eyes and think about it I see these kinds of bridges being built. So that kind of bridge building is what I think about when I close my eyes and think about what’s next, West Virginia?