Loudoun County officials are partnering with their counterparts in Danville as part of a new pilot exchange program.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced the new initiative in front of guests at the executive mansion Thursday.
Originally a textile and furniture leader – and now placing an emphasis on 21st century workforce training – Northam said Danville’s economic history should be a great example for Loudoun and other northern Virginia counties. Alexandria, the city of Norton and Wise County were also selected as part of the exchange program.
“I think for us to reach out to other areas of Virginia and learn about them, and then bring those ideas and experiences back to Richmond, and then make good policy that benefits all of Virginia—that's what this is all about,” Northam told the Times-Mirror.
The exchange program is modeled after the Sister Cities International program, which provides a forum to exchange information and build stronger relationships around the world, according to the governor’s office. President Dwight Eisenhower created the Sister Cities program in 1956 to promote “better understanding, respect, and cooperation across international boundaries.”
In partnership with Northam's office, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League, the communities will assemble delegations that will visit their partner communities to highlight assets and familiarize themselves with the other community.
Loudoun is expected to create a group of local elected and appointed officials, state legislators and other key stakeholders to partake in the program. The delegation will travel and visit their partner once over the next year and then serve as hosts to Danville representatives. Loudoun will develop an itinerary that highlights tourism, natural and cultural assets and economic development strategies.
Following Northam’s remarks, representatives from Danville and Loudoun County said they are eager to begin.
“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,” Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said in a prepared statement.
Before departing from a meeting at the governor's mansion, representatives from both jurisdictions exchanged lapel pins with each other’s government emblems.
City of Danville Councilman James Buckner said he looks forward to “building off of each other’s strengths.”
One area he thinks Danville can help Loudoun is to enhance the county’s relationships between local towns and villages. Rifts between Loudoun County and its largest local town, Leesburg, have bubbled up in recent years, including a legal spat over the Joint Land Management Area.
Danville, which became an independent city in 1890 from Pittsylvania County, is in the south-central area of Virginia, located on the fall line of the Dan River. Nearly 41,000 people lived in Danville in 2018, according to the U.S. Census.
"Our knowledge of the way intergovernmental relations is with our city and county is a very good thing," Buckner said. “We've worked out some really good things with our city and county, and being that Loudoun County is such a large county, I think we'll be able to take a lot away from them, as well.”
"Certainly economic development is an interesting topic for us,” Danville City Manager Ken Larking said. “We understand Loudoun County is big in data centers, and we're trying to get into that game as well. Tourism is important. The relationship between the county and the towns and versus our relationship between the city and the county, which is unique as an independent city. We got some differences there, but it could be something that we can learn from each other.”
Loudoun has received several accolades for its work in tourism, government affairs and education, and the county is known for its strong economic portfolio.
But there is still room for growth, said Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Koran Saines (D-Sterling).
“We'll just work together to see how we can help each other through economic development partnerships and through cultural exchanges,” Saines said. "We are both part of the commonwealth of Virginia, but we're in the northern part [and] they're down in the southern part—very close to North Carolina and then the Tennessees of the world—so, I'm looking forward to it.”
Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones was not in attendance at Thursday's breakfast, but did say he is looking forward to the opportunity.
“We feel like we’ve got a great story to tell, and I am certain the others do as well,” Jones said in a prepared statement.