Chamber President Brent Clancy updates members on how the chamber did in 2019, as Katherine Worsley looks on. (Warren Goulding/Gazette)

Cowichan Lake Chamber upbeat, despite susidizing Visitor Centre operations

Clancy said he had hoped to see the Chamber website upgraded

Brent Clancy was upbeat as he looked back on a year that saw more visitors to the area and continuing financial challenges for the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce.

Clancy, owner of Vancouver Island Labour Services, is winding up a two-year term as president of the business organization and has indicated he would like to continue in that role.

“The Chamber is a voice for business and to have more voices speaking out is powerful,” he suggested.

“It’s important to counteract hidden money and hidden forces,” Clancy told members attending the annual general meeting on March 5.

On the operations front, Clancy said the Chamber played a role in the positive things that are happening in the region.

“Lots has been happening in our community in the last few years and we are much more on the map,” he said.

Clancy pointed to the Visitor Centre and the Mobile Unit as vehicles that are getting the message out to the world that the Lake Cowichan region is a great place to visit.

“The Mobile Visitor Unit is a great asset, going to local events and putting in a fantastic plug for the area.”

Clancy said he had hoped to see the Chamber website upgraded last year but an overhaul is now planned for the coming year.

“Moving forward, the priority is getting our finances in order and providing more value for our members.”

As is the case with most Chambers of Commerce, Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce struggles with the burden of operating a Visitor Information Centre.

On the Chamber side alone, the organization managed to record a modest surplus but the Visitor Centre put the Chamber into the red again in 2019.

“We had an extra $5,000 in grants for student wages and (retail) sales were up in the Visitor Centre and Mobile Unit, which helped to subsidize the Visitor Centre operating costs,” Clancy reported.

However, it wasn’t enough to cover the increasing expenses of operating the Centre.

“It’s not fair for the Chamber to be subsidizing the Visitor Centre,” Clancy said. “I’m not saying that we don’t get value out of that but it has cost us thousands of dollars over the last five years.”

The five-year contract the Chamber has to operate the Visitor Centre is in its last year and Clancy says discussions with the Town of Lake Cowichan will be held in an effort to work out a more equitable formula.

Looking forward to 2020’s operations, Clancy says the Chamber is budgeting for a $4,800 loss on the Visitor Centre side, something that is not sustainable in the long-term.

“The only thing we could do to run a balanced budget is to cut youth wages,” Clancy told the AGM, adding the Chamber board is reluctant to do that.

“They get great value out of working there and we get great value. So the Chamber board decided we get greater value and the community gets value so we will live with it.

“But it limits what we can do for our businesses.”

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