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Kanawha County, West Virginia

Community Definition and Identity

Kanawha County, West Virginia, is how we identify our community (Figure P.1-1). The Virginia General Assembly authorized the establishment of Kanawha County, which started in November 1788 and was established in 1789. The Kanawha River, which took its name from the local Native tribe, was the source of the county's name. Kanawha County is now the most populated county in West Virginia, with a total population of 177,049. The state's capital, Charleston, serves as the county seat. The commercial, financial, medical, and governmental hub of West Virginia is in Charleston, which includes Kanawha County. 902 square miles make up Kanawha County. Within Kanawha County there are 8 cities, 8 towns and 12 unincorporated communities.  75% of the county is urban; 25% rural. Between 2010 and 2022 the population fell by 15,111 persons, a change of -7.7%. 

87.95% of the population is White, 6.92% is African American, Multiracial make up 3.39%, Asian 1.22% and other makes up .53%.  Families with one or more children under the age of 18 comprise 27% of all occupied households. With roughly 21% of the population 65 years or older, the median age is 43.6. 

Key sites and landmarks include the Clay Center for Performing Arts, West Virginia State Capitol, West Virginia Cultural Center, South Charleston Mound, Mardi Gras Casino and Resort and the Charleston Convention Center.   

In a region of nine counties, Kanawha County acts as the hub for employment. More than 11,000 travel from Putnam County, a nearby county, while more than 2,000 do so from Boone County and more than 1,000 from Lincoln County. Working in Kanawha County frequently requires commutes of up to one hour each way. The unemployment rate in Kanawha County started the year 2023 at 3.20%, and it has just risen slightly to 3.40%.

The largest not-for-profit hospital in West Virginia and winner of the 2015 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is Vandalia Health, which is also the third largest employer in the state. Other healthcare facilities in Kanawha County include Highland Hospital, West Virginia University Medicine-Thomas Hospitals, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, West Virginia Health Right, Cabin Creek Health System, and FamilyCare, a federally qualified health center. 

Since 1994, the Kanawha Coalition for Community Health Improvement has been working to meet the needs of Kanawha County residents. To significantly enhance the health of the people in Kanawha County, it is our duty to identify health concerns and organize resources. The county's hospitals, behavioral health center, federally qualified health center, United Way, local health department, school system, faith-based partnership, Charleston Area Alliance (business alliance), State Bureau for Public Health, and West Virginia State University are among the members of this unique coalition.  

Key Advantages and Challenges

Advantages Challenges
Quality and availability of healthcare services including Level I Trauma Center and highest level NICU and PICU Age and health of our population
Healthcare education programs including medical education and residency programs Opioid crisis
Health research and clinical trial opportunities Workforce preparedness
Quality education system Downturn of coal industry
Improving high school dropout rate Terrain is a challenge with little flat land
Charleston is the seat of WV government Aging infrastructure
Tourism Retention of young people
Abundance of oil and gas resources Recent increase in the homeless moving into Charleston
Strong family connections Increased demand for social services
Sense of place Recovery from natural disasters
Comprehensive/collaborative network of social services
Kanawha County has a long history of working together across disciplines and competing interests to address problems and issues
We could reframe our history and our future through Communities of Excellence