RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today launched the Virginia Local Government Exchange Program, designed to bridge cultural and geographic divides across Virginia. The pilot program will begin with two partnerships: Wise County and the City of Norton will team up with the City of Alexandria, and the City of Danville will connect with Loudoun County.
The program is modeled after the successful Sister Cities International program, which provides a forum to exchange information and build stronger relationships around the world. President Dwight Eisenhower created Sister Cities International in 1956 to promote better understanding, respect, and cooperation across international boundaries.
“The Virginia Local Government Exchange Program will create opportunities for leaders to experience just how diverse our Commonwealth is,” said Governor Northam. “The idea is simple—it’s much easier to understand a distant place when you see it, talk to the people who live there, get to know one another, and exchange ideas. This a way to move beyond politics that too often pits communities against each other. This program is designed to help localities learn about each other’s challenges and opportunities, and view other regions of the state as partners, not competitors.”
The program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Association of Counties, and Virginia Municipal League. These communities will develop delegations that will visit their partner communities to highlight assets and opportunities and familiarize themselves with another community.
Each participating community will assemble a delegation of local elected and appointed officials, state legislators, and other key stakeholders to participate in the exchange program. The members of the delegation, who will travel and visit their partner once over the next year, will serve as hosts to their paired community. The hosting communities will develop an itinerary that highlights tourism, natural and cultural assets, and economic development strategies.
“We look forward to learning from our new partners across the Commonwealth to help us better serve the residents of our community,” said City of Alexandria Mayor Justin M. Wilson.
“We look forward to the opportunity to learn more about other communities in Virginia and for them to learn about Danville,” said City of Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones. “We feel like we’ve got a great story to tell, and I am certain the others do as well.”
“On behalf of Loudoun County, we are looking forward to sharing our story and successes with the city of Danville, and we are pleased to participate in the Commonwealth’s effort to advance local government exchange opportunities through this new program,” said Chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Phyllis J. Randall.
“The City of Norton is supportive of efforts to connect communities across the Commonwealth as a means for gaining a better understanding of the similarities and differences our communities face,” said City of Norton Mayor Joseph Fawbush.
“A collaborative partnership between Wise County and the City of Alexandria provides the opportunity to share cultural and economic stories and successes that will help each of us grow and prosper through this new program developed by the Commonwealth,” said Chairman of the Wise County Board of Supervisors John Schoolcraft.
Virginia has more than 8.5 million people living in 38 cities, 95 counties and 190 towns covering over 42,000 square miles. The pilot localities are geographically very distant, but all have a strong local vision for advancing opportunity and promoting partnerships and mutual understanding across the Commonwealth.
Tomorrow, the Governor will host leaders from the five pilot localities at the Executive Mansion in Richmond to kick off the program.