Valerie Bandell may have just recently moved to Huntington, WV, but it didn’t take her long to get involved in its vibrant community life. She’s a member of the planning team for “What’s Next, Huntington?”, which recently hosted two large community forums about the economic future of their city.

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The hundred or so people who gathered for the first discussion decided on eight main areas of work to improve their local economy: marketing of place and self-promotion; education; tourism; business development; jobs; housing stock; opportunities for young people; and drugs. We caught up with “What’s Next, Huntington?” at their second forum, where participants asked, “How are we going to get there?”, prioritized their top areas of work and discussed next steps.

Listen to Valerie talk about the connection between different aspects of our economy, like jobs and education, and what that connection means for creating positive change:

Everything has to work in tandem. A big part of our conversation was partnerships with the schools and businesses, and I think that was an overarching theme in a lot of groups

…About the importance of creating a sense of place and community to improve the economy: 

One of the high schoolers said kids nowadays pick where they want to live first, and plan their career out of what opportunities are there. So I think it’s important that we look at our cities and towns and ask, is this a place where people want to be and live? 

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…And about what she hopes will happen next...

I think it’s important to go after those first small steps so that people can see something happening from these forums, to encourage them to continue.

We certainly hope that Valerie and her other planning team members—who represent the United Way of River Cities, universities, Mayor’s office, faith communities, economic development entities, public schools—continue this outstanding engagement work around the economy of Huntington. We are inspired by your story, and we think other West Virginians will be as well.

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