Sister cities


Story by Carmen Hawkins Dececco

In January 1931 Toledo, Ohio, signed a “Twinning” agreement with Toledo, Spain. Eighty-eight years later, in June 2019, Hilton Head Island signed a friendship pact with Verona, Italy. In the intervening years more than 700 cities in the United States alone have engaged in long-term partnerships (commonly known as sister cities), with overseas municipalities. Some, like Chicago, have 30 sister-city agreements with towns in a range of countries including China, Australia and Pakistan. Others, like Birmingham, Alabama, have 14 such international partnerships in places like Ghana, Japan and the Czech Republic. South Carolina alone boasts more than 20 international sister city pacts.

So what’s the point?

Arts, culture, trade, employment opportunities and education all benefit participating towns. Events such as culture-based festivals bring tourism to the host community. In the area of business and trade, the exchange of commodities and professional training expands each region’s economics.

“The programming is typically built on three foundational pillars: education, culture and economics,” said Craig Lundgren, president of the Greenville sister city leadership team. “We have conducted city-to-city delegation visits focused on economic development and education, resulting in study exchange programming between universities, collaborative research projects and foreign direct investments.” Greenville has four sister cities, including Kortrijk, Belgium, and Vadodara, India.

Are there financial benefits?

Consider this: Charleston’s Spoleto Festival brings $40 million in revenues to Charleston annually. And while not all sister city agreements are as lucrative, ongoing engagement can result in revenues from international tourism, exports, manufacturing and more. According to Business Insider, “Sister city relationships also can bring jobs to a community in addition to lucrative contracts. San Antonio, for example, became home to a Toyota manufacturing plant, thanks to its relationship with its Japanese sister city, Kumamoto.”

The intangible gains range from heightened cultural enrichment to the free exchange of ideas. Kyoto, Japan, sends 10 students annually to sister city Boston. Overseas internships are a huge advantage to students of both sister cities who can take the skills they learn from their host city back home to share with local businesses.

Welcome to the Lowcountry 

Last month Verona sent 30 high school students to Hilton Head Island, who met with Mayor John McCann, local dignitaries and representatives from the Italian American Club of Hilton Head. They took tours of the island and regional schools like College of Charleston, USCB-Columbia and the Savannah College of Art and Design. Some acknowledged they were considering applying to one of these universities, and all of them simply loved their experiences on Hilton Head. It is hoped that island students would like to make a reciprocal trip to Verona at some point.

“It’s not about the money. It’s about the people,” McCann said in his welcome speech on July 7 at Town Hall. “You are the hope.” LL

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