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The purpose of Planning District Commissions, as set out in the Code of Virginia, Section 15.2-4207, is "...to encourage and facilitate local government cooperation and state-local cooperation in addressing on a regional basis problems of greater than local significance."

The NSVRC is one of 21 PDCs in Virginia, and like many other PDCs provides a variety of technical and program services to member local governments. These services can include grant application assistance, program management, mapping, and planning assistance in areas such as land use, transportation, and natural resource management. For the Commonwealth, PDCs serve as an accessible network that gives quick and complete statewide coverage. Each also serves as the Affiliate State Data Center for the region, providing important information to businesses as well as citizens.

The program work of PDCs has been meeting the needs of local and state government for the last 40 years. Within their region they may serve to build regional approaches to issues like economic development, solid waste management and legislative priorities. In other states, organizations like PDCs are known as regional councils, regional commissions, and councils of government.

One important duty of the PDC's is to create a strategic plan for the region. This plan is created in cooperation with local governments, businesses, citizen organizations, and other interested parties. The plan is intended to help promote the orderly and efficient development of the PDC by stating goals and objectives, strategies to meet those goals, and mechanisms for measuring progress.