Regional chamber gets financial backing of City of Grand Forks
With the solid funding support from the City of Grand Forks and Community Futures Boundary (CFB), a regional chamber of commerce vision is in the works. On June 28 Grand Forks City Council approved $10,000 from their 2009 surplus funds to match the same contribution from CFB for a steering committee of representatives from across the Boundary to work on bringing businesses together under one umbrella. “The chambers have no funds to operate,” says Wendy McCulloch, general manager for CFB. “And most of the chambers in the region are operating with volunteer labour. The chamber is an important part of the business community. This is not something new. In 2005 we had a group talk about a regional chamber so that there’s welcome centres in Rock Creek and Christina Lake, and that all of the communities in between and even out further have some kind of service.” McCulloch says that the chambers provide business owners with a number of supports from advocacy to marketing to health benefit plans. CFB got involved because they simply don’t want to lose the chambers in the area. The board of directors asked McCulloch to go out and see if there is an interest to move forward. Sarah Winton, project co-ordinator for CFB, has been out in the communities talking with business owners and encouraging them to submit a survey. They have already received 100 surveys, and Winton hopes to get at least 300 responses by the end of the process. “(The businesses) think that we’ll have a bigger bang for their buck for the area generally,” said McCulloch. “When it comes to things like tourism and destination marketing, without a chamber function it’s really hard to do those things. We asked the city for grant-in-aid funds to try and move forward to see what we can do with this regional chamber initiative. We’re anticipating that it’s going to be six months before we get all the feedback.” McCulloch says that in the research they’ve completed CFB has found that individual chambers don’t have to lose their identity in the process of a regional group which was one of the largest concerns of the different business groups. Local business owner of Chain Reaction, Brian Fletcher, was at the city council meeting to support their decision to help the regional initiative get going. In the last two years the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Grand Forks has shrunk from an office of two to a volunteer driven organization with no home. He’s a big fan of the regional idea. “In view of economic times and the fact that funding has dried up, the regional concept is really the only way to go,” says Fletcher. “There is resistance but I think that once businesses generally see a regional concept working everyone will eventually be on board with it and it will be a plus for everybody because most of us are aware of the good things a chamber does.” Fletcher is also interested in seeing the city come on board as a annual funder of the chamber using the business licence fees or hotel room taxes. “It’s actually quite astounding that this is one of the only communities in B.C. that does not fund the chamber currently,” he notes. “This is seed money, this is not permanent ongoing funding which council needs to adopt.” Either way, CFB is interested in hearing from the business community in the Boundary. “We’re hoping that it’s going to go forward. (The funding) is going to support finding out whether this is going to work or not. If it’s not and we can’t see there’s enough support then we’ll put (the project) aside. But it won’t be because it wasn’t given a valiant effort,” McCulloch explains.
Surveys are available on line at: http://www.boundarycf.com/page.asp?PageID=1