The president of Owensboro Sister Cities and Regions told city commissioners Tuesday the organization can help with economic development but the group needs more direction from local leaders to do so.

Michael Vanover, president of Owensboro Sister Cities and Regions, spoke to commissioners about the organization’s role during a Tuesday work session at City Hall. Last month, some city commissioners and Mayor Tom Watson questioned the program and if it has an impact on economic development during discussions of the 2021-22 budget.

Sister Cities receives $8,167 in city funds. Watson said during the budget session that Sister Cities is “not a financial whiz-bang for the city, never has been, never will be.”

Owensboro has two sister cities, Olomouc, in the Czech Republic, and Nisshin, Japan. Vanover said the program provides a number of services, such as promoting the city’s cultural heritage, and making cultural and business ties with its sister cities.

“Sister Cities and Regions does not have the responsibility of creating economic development,” Vanover said. “As an entity, we were designed with a different purpose in mind.”

But Vanover said, “I do feel the local government and (the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.) could use us more. We are at the service of local government, and we were created by local government.”

The Sister Cities board includes a member of the EDC staff, Vanover said. Using Siser Cities as an economic development tool is “going to take a larger commitment from the local government, in money and time,” he said.

“We could do a lot of if the city, the governing body, the county ... gives us the direction.”

The city has not had a visit to or from Nisshin since before the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, Vanover said, but the local Sister Cities board is trying to rebuild ties. Exchanges with Olomouc have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Watson said Nisshin was chosen because of its proximity to the city of Toyota. Since Owensboro Sister Cities was created, city government has allocated $198,000 to the organization, Watson said.

“We have an investment ..., no question,” Watson said. “It’s taxpayer money.

“I’m just looking at what we are doing, and how we make it grow.”

Commissioner Mark Castlen questioned a plan to send firefighters from Owensboro to the Czech Republic for an exchange. While that could beneficial to firefighters in Olomouc, “I don’t see how our firefighters can benefit from it as much,” he said.

Vanover said, “that kind of interaction (among firefighters) is going to be tremendous. It’s going to lead to other things.”

Vanover said he hopes to have additional news on restarting the city’s relationship with Nisshin in three to six months, and making connections with cities in Mexico and Canada is being discussed as well.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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