Last week, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors entered into a partnership with Holmes County, MS. Part of a National Association of Counties initiative supported by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the program connects jurisdictions of differing economic circumstances with the goal of improving the lives of their residents.
Located in central Mississippi, Holmes County has a population of 18,000 and a median household income of $20,300, with 46.5 percent of residents living in poverty. The partnership is expected to involve visits by the elected representative, student and cultural exchanges and economic development collaborations. Loudoun has much to bring to the table.
But county leaders need not reach so far away to make an impact.
What if Loudoun (and other Northern Virginia counties) formed partnerships with downstate jurisdictions to help boost the fortunes of other Virginians?
For example, in Dickenson County, the 6,600 households have a median family income of $34,000. In Lee County, Virginia’s westernmost county, the median household income is under $30,000. Like other jurisdictions in that region, they face declining population, high unemployment and dim economic prospects.
What if a student sitting in Dickenson County’s only high school could remotely participate in classes at the Academies of Loudoun? Or a Lee County farmer could grow grapes for a Loudoun winery on his tobacco field? Or an unemployed coal country worker could do a little telecommuting for a Loudoun company struggling to find new hires? The results could be transformative for those communities.
On a statewide stage, one the biggest hurdles Loudoun’s leaders face is the perception the county is populated with wealthy elitists with little in common with residents in others areas of the commonwealth. That has been a costly disconnect, as legislators time and again dismiss calls for the infrastructure funding required to support Virginia’s growth here.
Building intrastate partnerships could be one way to help close that gap and to better highlight the fact that Loudoun’s successes are truly Virginia’s successes.