Does the Chamber of Commerce really accomplish anything in the small towns here in northern British Columbia? Perhaps a Chamber Manager, Director, or staunch Chamber supporter will step in and see this as an opportunity to overcome common small business owner objections while promoting the efforts of your local Chamber of Commerce.
Honestly, what does the Chamber of Commerce do? Our tours of northern British Columbia revealed that we are not the only ones asking that question. Our opinion poll is by no means scientific, but the general consensus is that Chambers are outdated entities. At the very least, they need to reinvent themselves.
Our conclusion? The Chamber of Commerce has only one main goal: to increase membership. Plain and simple, more members mean more money. Presumably, after covering staffing and other overhead costs, the additional revenue allows the chamber to run programs or host visitors to the community whose expertise may benefit members. But is that really being done?
For the prospective Chamber of Commerce member, let’s consider some common Chamber promotions:
1. Guest Speaker Series: The House Luncheon is a common offering by House young and old. The lunches are organized around a guest speaker who may or may not be paid for their efforts. Political candidates always generate strong participation. Regardless of the speaker’s background, we have found that these lunches are rarely tailored to the local community. I liken it to the touring rock band that ends the concert with “Thanks! You rock!” The audience may feel good, but in the end, there is nothing legitimate for the small business owner.
2. Financial benefits – Many chambers list long distance savings, lower fuel costs, bank discounts, and reduced hotel rates as membership benefits. Are you serious? The online world is designed for bargain shoppers, so choose a brown bag lunch over a camera lunch and learn how you can travel for less using Hotwire, get insurance for less from Canadian Direct Insurance, or bank from free with the new “Business Direct” from HSBC. account. If you don’t have the computer skills, buy your coworker a meal and turn lunch into a productive “lunch and learning” session. Offline and closer to home, save gas with the Cardlock Coop (self-service) system. Sure, you will have to become a member of the Vanderhoof Coop Association, but again, you will receive a refund once a year based on your annual purchases. You will be impressed with the savings.
3. Information for new businesses: Chambers have always been strong at exchanging information, but in today’s information age, cameras are slipping. Once a conduit for general business information, chamber websites now focus primarily on member-to-member services. In a small town, such a strategy has little benefit for both the chamber and the chamber member. Up and down Routes 16 and 97, many Chamber offices have a similar staffing model to address the needs of the local community. We find it disconcerting that some small towns with limited resources have both a chamber director and an economic development officer. To what end? Sure, the cost of the additional position could be funded by federal / provincial government funds, but in the end, what is the goal? Given that similar positions exist within local municipalities, native gangs, and CFDC offices, isn’t it time for a different approach?
I am concerned about the northern British Columbia communities and the Chambers of Commerce that represent them. Our communities are not growing. Our long history of dependence on a forest-based economy has left us so shortsighted that almost every conceivable economic plan B seems fuzzy, out of reach, or at least years away. The citizens of northern British Columbia need the leadership voice of the Houses to speak louder than ever.