Making a difference in her community

The past few months have been hard on a lot of people and businesses.

A nearly three-month lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn launched a wave of job loss and economic hardships, has left a lot of individuals picking up the pieces of what remains of their pre-pandemic life.

And while most people have been adversely affected by the virus in some way, some individuals and industries have been hit harder than others.

Take, for instance, the tourism industry.

Over the past few years, Huntington has enjoyed a resurgence on the national scene. From a revitalized downtown area to a growing Marshall University campus, Huntington’s growth was embodied in 2017 with the receipt of the America’s Best Community Award after a nearly three-year competition.

That award, combined with a number of revitalization projects and movements within the community, has put Huntington on a new path of prosperity.

And then came what has been a less-than-ideal start to the year 2020.

While the pandemic has not halted any of the momentum the city has enjoyed since receiving the award three years ago, it has slowed several projects and left many businesses that make up the heart of the revitalized downtown area in a pinch.

And that is where people like Anna Adkins come in to play.

“The pandemic has been an unprecedented experience for all of us,” said Adkins, Sales Manager of the Huntington Area Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB). “In an industry built on travel and personal interaction, we’ve seen a dramatic decline in visitation, like many cities across the country. As safe travel returns and we all adapt to many new norms, we hope to get back to doing what we do best. Thankfully, the CVB has been able to keep everyone on staff and share resources with the community.”

Amid the pandemic, it is forward-thinking people like Adkins that have helped the community remain upbeat and allowed for creative new ideas during these difficult times.

And it all starts with her positive attitude and outgoing personality.

Adkins has been with the Huntington Area Convention & Visitor’s Bureau since 2013, witnessing much of the momentum the city has enjoyed over the past handful of years in person. Primarily in charge of bringing groups and visitors to the area for special events, meetings, conferences and sporting events, Adkins says that it is her passion for the community that drives her in her daily life.

And she refuses to allow anything – including a pandemic – slow the progress the city has made.

“I love to travel to different trade shows around the country to promote our area and encourage people to visit,” Adkins said. “I’ve seen places I likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to visit, and met many wonderful people in the tourism industry throughout West Virginia and across the country. Every city and every state are facing their own distinctive challenges right now, but we are all working toward many of the same goals. There is much we can all learn from each other and I am very grateful to network with many of the hardworking doers and problem-solvers in my industry.”

During the pandemic, Adkins has been able to enjoy a front-row-seat to some of the direct action being taken by local community members to help businesses and front-line workers battling the virus. A volunteer-oriented person in her own right, serving on a number of committees and groups including the Women’s Caucus of Leadership, Generation Huntington, Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Marshall University Alumni Association board, Adkins says that much of what she has seen in the community makes her proud to be from this area and excited to help in her own way.

“It is very important to get involved with community organizations that help make our city and state better, now more than ever,” Adkins said. “I wish I had a million dollars to financially boost all of the wonderful organizations doing such great, necessary work. Instead, I volunteer and give back with my time and energy. If I want to see my city succeed, I can’t stand by and wish. I have to get in there and get my hands dirty.”

One of the organizations that has taken a leading role in making a difference in Huntington is the #MyHuntington movement. Started by local community members and business owners just after receiving the America’s Best Community award, #MyHuntington asks residents and influencers to tell their own personal stories about what makes Huntington special. And during the pandemic, #MyHuntington has gone far beyond the digital space to physically helping out in the community.

“My Huntington encourages a positive narrative from community members as we all share why we love our city,” Adkins said. “During the pandemic, they raised money and fed frontline workers to thank them for all their hard work. They continue to help sharpen and amplify the positive narrative experience by so many who love our city.”

And it is not hard to see why Adkins is so passionate for this area.

Growing up in Ceredo-Kenova and graduating from Spring Valley High School, Adkins has called Huntington home all of her life. She received her undergraduate degree in Business Marketing and graduate degree in Public Administration from Marshall University and she says she has a deep love for the places that helped shape her.

“Marshall is part of who I am. Growing up in this region, love of home and love of The Herd form some of my oldest, fondest memories,” Adkins said. “In elementary school, I remember tailgating with my best friend’s family before Marshall football games every season. I knew I didn’t have to leave home to get a first-class education. I’ve grown up alongside our university, and I have been so proud to watch Marshall expand its facilities and programming over the years.

“Marshall also challenged me to become the best version of myself – in the classroom and beyond. As one dedicated alumni among many, I continue to set goals for myself and our community. Marshall instilled in me an intellectual curiosity. Marshall also exposed me to various perspectives, challenged many of preconceived notions, and opened my mind to new ideas. I grew so much during my years on campus.”

After graduating from Marshall, Adkins held a number of managements positions in the retail space before landing with the CVB in 2013. Since taking the position, Adkins earned her Certified Travel Industry Specialist and Travel Marketing Professional certifications and was named the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce Downtown LIVE! Committee Volunteer of the Year in 2016.

Today, she promotes tourism in our area, specifically Cabell and Wayne counties.

“Things move slowly in our industry because people are often planning events years in advance. Therefore, cultivating and nurturing strong relationships becomes an important part of the equation,” Adkins said. “We must demonstrate that we have the appropriate facilities to host an event, enough activities to keep attendees entertained, and the ability to assist them throughout the entire process.

“The America’s Best Community award really helped in this process. The competition earned us a lot of positive media attention, introduced new partnerships, and has been the catalyst for much-needed improvement projects within our city that will ultimately enhance every Huntingtonian’s quality of life.”

Away from work, Adkins enjoys frequenting Huntington’s vibrant restaurant scene and exploring Ritter Park and the city’s Southside neighborhood.

While still a long way from a complete return to normal, as businesses slowly begin to reopen Adkins says it is more important than ever to shop local and help keep the city on the same forward trajectory.

“As businesses begin to reopen their doors to the public, it is slowly becoming easier to support local shops and restaurants in-person. However, some are not comfortable doing so yet,” Adkins said. “You can still order from many shops online and have items shipped directly to your house. Others conveniently offer curbside pickup. To-go food is available through most local restaurants as well. Gift cards are also a great way to support local businesses if you aren’t comfortable visiting them just yet.”

Adkins not only talks the talk, but she walks the walk, which has been key to her own personal success and the success the area has enjoyed in recent years. But no matter where life takes her, she always remembers to take a piece of Huntington – and a piece of Marshall – with her wherever she goes.

“When traveling, I always try to wear some sort of Marshall gear,” Adkins said. “Without fail, someone always yells, “Go Herd!” while I’m walking through the airport. It is a reminder that this is a more than a community and a school, it is a family. And I am proud to call this place home.”