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Welcome to WebmasterWorld. The gr8 idea as usually. Everybody want to be the number 1 on google. As far as your banner exchange is concern, this is not a bad point from the google point of views, but your site should contains the quality content, quality backlinks, and a lots of other factors. Banner exchange will not affect you but make sure the linked sites is also a quality site as yours.
It's hilltop. You have no other sites ranking for "amazing farms of pink widgets in a lonely island in south pacific" linking to you. ;-)
Don't only look for a number when linking. That PR could be old, the site could be penalized and we haven't even gotten to relevancy.
Spend some time with Martinibuster and the frequenters of forum 12: [webmasterworld.com...]