Milwaukee, Wisconsin Mayor Tom Barrett and Medan, Indonesia Mayor Dzulmi Eldin officially signing agreement to become sister cities. Image: Indonesian Trade Promotion Center Chicago.

Milwaukee’s New Indonesian Sister City Adds to Wisconsin’s Robust Asia Ties

ASEAN Indonesia

The cities of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Medan, Indonesia are pledging to explore further partnerships with one another after establishing a sister city relationship. The agreement was made official in late October when Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Medan Mayor Dzulmi Eldin, along with city officials from both countries signed the document establishing the relationship.

Officials say they will look to create educational, economic, and cultural partnerships across many fields, as a way to promote friendship and understanding between the peoples of each community. In addition, they pledged to encourage opportunities in business, culture, health care, education, science and technology, and tourism in both places. Since the partnership was agreed last October, some progress has been made on a number of new projects. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Northern Sumatera (Sumatra) to promote exchange, training, and technology with one another. UWM is also seeking a memorandum of understanding with the University of HKBP Nommensen, a private school located in Medan, Indonesia. Wisconsin’s water technology expertise is being promoted and a number of organizations from Milwaukee and Medan are working on possible joint initiatives. In addition, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is working with the Indonesian consulate in Chicago to foster more cooperation and trade between their state and Indonesia.

Medan is the capital of North Sumatra, which sits on the northern coast of the province, adjacent to the Malacca Strait. It is the fifth largest city in Indonesia and is an economic hub and commercial center for the region.

This connection marks Milwaukee’s fifth sister relationship and it is the city's only current partnership with a city in Asia. In general, though, Wisconsin enjoys a number of other state and city relationships with countries in Asia. The state has relationships with Chiba Prefecture, Japan as well as Heilongjiang Province, China. In addition, there are two other relationships with ASEAN countries, one between Kenosha and Quezon City, Philippines and another between Madison and Bac Giang, Vietnam. Further relationships exist with communities across Asia including with places in Australia, Japan, China, and Timor-Leste.

State and city ties with countries and communities in Asia are a growing part of the Wisconsin economy. The state exports 27% of its goods to the region with China, Japan, and Australia being top destinations. Exports to Asia support some 29% of all export-related jobs in the state. In addition, almost 3% of the population is Asian American, many of which identify as Indian or Chinese.

Nate Schlabach is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.