Cities work to tighten sisterly bonds

From left to right, Executive Director of Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce Tom Thompson, Sandpoint City Planner Jeremy Grimm, GM indoor operations and marketing officer Anne Pigeon, former Sandpoint mayor and volunteer Gretchen Hellar, Nelson City Councilor Deb Kozak, DSBA Manager Marcy Timblin, POAC executive director Kim Queen, Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism Association director Dianna Ducs, Lake Pend Oreille Cruises co-owner Linda Mitchell, Sandpoint Mayor Marsha Ogilvie, Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce president Kate McAlister, Community Futures of Central Kootenay manager Paul Wiest and chamber communications specialist Mack Deibel pose for a photo. (Photo by CAMERON RASMUSSON)

SANDPOINT — There’s a friendly place north of the border for local residents.

The Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce associates met with their professional peers from Sandpoint’s sister city, Nelson, British Columbia, Thursday to lay plans for the relationship.

“Most sister cities never develop their status beyond ceremony, but we have the chance to do something really special here,” Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce president Kate McAlister said.   

The Canadian city has a number of elements in common with its sibling municipality. It’s in the same general population category with just over 10,000 residents and receives a strong economic boost from tourism. A naturally beautiful region, an abundance of charming architecture and restored historic buildings and plenty of opportunity for outdoor activities, according to its chamber officials.

From there, the similarities become more uncanny. Nelson residents also enjoy a ski resort only a stone’s throw from the town itself, have plenty of chances to get out hiking, mountain biking or rock climbing. Indeed, the planners were amused to learn they had several identical programs in place, including an art walk and A Taste of Sandpoint/Nelson events.

Given the many similarities between the two cities, chamber of commerce members agreed there were plenty of ways to support one another not only in spirit but also through marketing, culture, commerce and cooperation.

At the Thursday meeting, members had plenty of preliminary ideas to set the foundation. Early brainstorming produced concepts like artist exchanges, a coordinated package for hiking enthusiasts and even economic cooperation between the two towns’ manufacturing industries.

Despite the general sense of enthusiasm among planners, they did acknowledge some difficulties to overcome. The biggest one is the border, they said. For one thing, members cited a regulation making border-crossing difficult for individuals with drunken-driving convictions. For another, the bureaucratic hurdles could slow down any programs or exchanges between the two towns. Nevertheless, members agreed the issue was not insurmountable.

“(The North American Free Trade Agreement) is pretty comprehensive in trying to break down these barriers,” Sandpoint City Planner Jeremy Grimm said.

In the future, chamber of commerce associates from each city aim to present the specific ideas to experts for further development. Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce officials also hope to return the favor by visiting Nelson soon in an official capacity.

“This entire effort is all volunteer-based,” McAlister said. “I really, really hope it all works out.”

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