Huntington, West Virginia, is a gateway to economic transformation in Appalachia. Our community is at the center of the Huntington-Ashland-Ironton metropolitan area spanning seven counties and three states. We’re also at the center of workforce revitalization, particularly for our municipal workforce. Throughout my administration, my city has invested in our local government workforce by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, prioritizing mental health services and addressing housing needs.
Since winning Frontier Communication’s $3 million prize for America’s Best Communities in 2017, Huntington has leveraged nearly $102 million in additional grants by partnering with our philanthropic community and Marshall University. Huntington is proud to partner with the Coalfield Development Corporation to build a resilient community with a socially, environmentally and financially thriving economy to enable all Huntington residents to unlock their full potential. Coalfield’s mission is to inspire the courage to grow, activate the creativity to innovate and cultivate communities of opportunity in central Appalachia. As mayor, I led the effort to use more than $1.1 million of our city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to support Coalfield Programs that provide:
- Comprehensive job training
- Mentorship to advance career pathways
- New, small businesses in emerging sectors such as the arts and culture, manufacturing, transportation and logistics and construction
Our partnership with Coalfield has led to more than $200,000 in federal grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to support the Brownfields Job Training Program that provides funding for curriculum development to train local unemployed and underemployed people. We have created more than 40 on-the-job training positions and more than 200 professional certification opportunities for environmental jobs like Hazardous Waste, Occupational Safety and Health standards, sustainable deconstruction and composting for reclamation. Our goal is to provide training and offer residents of communities historically affected by environmental pollution and economic disinvestment to gain the skills to secure local environmental work in their own community.
Like many cities in West Virginia, Huntington is facing a shortage of police officers and firefighters as many first responders retire or leave the job, often because they are burnt out, overwhelmed and lack mental health support to continue in their high-stress roles. In 2019, we launched the Compass Project, funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge to offer physical wellness support, personal training and mental health support for firefighters and police officers. We have created a Wellness Center for first responders, a physical space in the Huntington Police Department with a fitness center, nutrition center and dedicated space for meditation or mental health support. We have also hired an in-house physical wellness coach and an in-house mental wellness coach to ensure our first responders have professional support to maintain their overall well-being. In Huntington, we recognize that to thrive and continue providing high-quality services for our residents, first responders and municipal employees need support for their mental and physical well-being.
Huntington is working to “grow our own” talent by investing in our local government workforce and creating high-quality jobs in new industries, creating training opportunities and pathways to career advancement, and supporting our municipal workforce with mental health services. These projects were successful because we partnered with organizations like the Coalfield Development Corporation, Marshall University and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Initiatives like raising our city’s minimum wage and the Compass Project required our city staff to work together across departments and think creatively about how we can be better employers for our public sector workforce. As other local governments work to support and develop their workforces, I hope Huntington can act as an example on building community partnerships, advancing good talent, supporting employees through thoughtful training and more. As this year’s chair of NLC’s Human Development Federal Advocacy Committee, I also look forward to working with the federal government to strengthen the federal-local partnership as we work to ensure that local workers are connected to local jobs.
Check out National League of Cities’ action guide on Building a Municipal Workforce for the Future for strategies on how local leaders can support their public sector workforces by attracting and retaining talent, investing in pathways for career advancement, and supporting workers through intentional policies and practices.
About the Author
Steve Williams is the Mayor of Huntington, West Virginia.