The Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce continues to trend in the right direction in terms of membership numbers, but there are other challenges on the horizon.
Executive director Sonja Nagel says the local organization has become the fourth largest chamber on Vancouver Island. There are now 584 members, up from 550 of a year ago.
Business sales, retirements and other factors led to the loss of 67 members but 101 new businesses and individuals came into the fold in 2019, Nagel told 67 attendees representing 47 businesses at the Chamber’s annual general meeting on Nov. 26.
“It was a record year of delivering value to our members,” Nagel added.
“Delivering value for members’ annual investment continues to be the number one priority for the Chamber.”
Staff created five value-added programs for members to connect and engage: Small Business BIG DAY; Business Expo & Community Social; The Kingpin of 10-pin; For the Love of Nonprofits, and; Amazing Race Cowichan.
The Black Tie Awards, Cowichan’s premiere celebration of business excellence and volunteerism, returns in April 2020 with nine award categories which are open to public nominations for individuals, businesses and organizations deserving of recognition.
Chamber President Chris Duncan, who is stepping down from that position, reported that it’s been another year when the Chamber has once again proven that they are the voice of business in Cowichan.
“The Chamber’s advocacy efforts were extensive, including advocating for Thriving Orcas Thriving Coastal Communities, a coalition of 17 Island Chambers proposing a balanced socio-economic approach to DFO’s measures to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales.
“The Chamber also put forward a policy at the BC Chamber of Commerce AGM regarding the surplus of funds held currently by WorkSafe BC. On the local front, the Chamber supported the rezoning application from Western Stevedoring, protecting the jobs and business of Pacific Industrial Marine, while recognizing their environmental stewardship efforts in Cowichan Bay estuary,” Duncan said.
“The Chamber is a legitimate and effective voice for business in our Valley. Sometimes we are the only independent business voice.”
Ladysmith mayor Aaron Stone, the newly elected chair of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, was the guest speaker at the AGM that was held at Arbutus Ridge Golf Club.
Stone outlined his vision for economic development in Cowichan, encouraging members to work with Barry O’Riordan, who leads Economic Development Cowichan, a department within the CVRD.
Stone said he and O’Riordan will be working together to advance the foundational work done on the tech sector and the industrial land use strategy, adding everyone has a role to play in diversifying local economies and bringing new industries and investments to the region.
“We’re not chasing the smoke stacks of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s,” Stone said. “We’re going back to the industries like forestry and agriculture that are the foundation we have to build on.
“These are still the high paying, quality jobs and we’re going back to these core industries and looking how the tech sector can work with them,” Stone said.
Past President Julie Scurr delivered the financial report and noted there was good news and some not-so-good news.
On the strength of increased membership revenue, the Chamber posted a surplus of $16,000 for 2019. However, the Visitor Centre continues to operate at a loss. This year it lost $36,529, creating a net loss for the combined operation of the Chamber and Visitor Centre of $20,464.
“The deficit we have because of the Visitor Centre is a challenge,” Scurr noted. “We need to find some certainty in Visitor Centre funding and find a way to fund it.
“We cannot continue to dip into savings every year.”
Since its opening six years ago, the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre has welcomed 158,000 visitors.
“We know it’s making a positive difference in the Cowichan Valley,” said Nagel, adding 25 per cent of visitors come in looking for maps and other print materials as they plan how to spend their time in the region.
Visitor Centre staff and volunteers provide information and suggestions for accommodations, shopping and local attractions including downtown shopping opportunities in Duncan and other Valley communities.
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A new board of directors of the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce was determined at the Nov. 26 annual general meeting.
Directors acclaimed were: Leah Hudson, Grant Thornton LLP; Arlene Johnson, G3 Mechatronics Inc.; Karen Partington, Bank of Montreal; Elly Ruge, Cowichan Auto Repair; Julie Scurr, Coast Salish Insurance; Warren Goulding, Cowichan Valley Citizen; Zaida Giron, MNP LLP.
They will join returning directors: Vince Avery, Thrive Now Physiotherapy; Karen Bresler, KBL Law Corporation; Christopher Schmerk, TD Canada Trust; Pamela Stover, PD Stover Professional Corporation.
Chris Duncan of MNP LLP will remain as president until the December board meeting.
Appointed directors include Ian Locke of the Downtown Duncan Business Improvement Area; Warren Weir of Vancouver Island University; Cathy Robertson of Community Futures Cowichan and Barry O’Riordan of Economic Development Cowichan.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring and Coun. Carol Newington of the City of Duncan are liaisons for their organizations and attend Chamber board meetings.