Sitting in the northeastern region of the eastern Europe’s Georgia is a small, rural town whose economy relies on outdoor recreation opportunities. Similar in many ways to the Snoqualmie Valley, Mestia is also looking to improve the operation of its town’s government and manage growth.
The city of North Bend has begun a professional and cultural exchange with Mestia to help support its development as well as to learn from Mestia’s administration to incorporate new ideas stateside. The city council approved the program at its Feb. 5 meeting.
On Friday, May 31, North Bend senior long range planner Jesse Reynolds took a flight to Mestia to work with elected officials to assess their needs and report back to North Bend. Reynolds will look at planning methods like growth management, comprehensive planning and concurrency.
“What I’m going on is the diagnostics trip — this is to basically assess, work with elected officials and staff in Mestia and get a feeling of what kind of things they want help with,” he said.
Reynolds’ report will be used to determine who at the city can fill the needs of Mestia. At a later date, a group of four North Bend representatives who can meet those needs will travel to work with the city.
“There are opportunities for North Bend to learn a lot from Mestia as well,” Reynolds said.
North Bend’s focus is outdoor recreation and Mestia is quite similar. The area receives many visitors from European countries looking for the recreation opportunities of the rural Georgian region. People have lived in Mountain Valley where Mestia is a known destination for thousands of years, he said, and despite growing tourism and increasing amounts of visitors each year, Mestia has kept its rural small town feel and culture.
North Bend hopes to learn about Mestia’s experience in preserving cultural heritage and managing the growth of outdoor recreation as a economic driver.
Funding for the program comes from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), an international development bank working to develop countries through loans and grants — ADB is providing $35,000 for the exchange. ADB calls it “twinning,” partnering up an entity in a developed country with a similar entity in a developing country. Reynolds said the capital of Tablisi is the economic workhorse of the country and using those funds, Georgia is looking to strengthen its rural areas.
The exchange is not related to a sister city program and is instead intended for professional development.
“But with that said, my personal hope is this is the beginning of fostering a relationship between North Bend and a city across the world,” he said.
Reynolds will be in Georgia for two weeks and will return on Thursday, June 13. After his report is delivered to the city, as many as five people from North Bend will travel to Mestia, and three people from Mestia will come to North Bend. The future trips do not yet have set dates.