The Castlegar & District Chamber of Commerce is riding a wave of enthusiasm
The current positivity and upbeat attitude of the Castlegar, B.C., business community indicate that 2016 was a good year. That translates to an exceptionally busy January for Tammy Verigin-Burk, executive director of the Castlegar & District Chamber of Commerce. Not that she’s complaining—Verigin-Burk is enthusiastic about the activities of the year.
“We’ve been much busier this January than we were last year,” she said. “Maybe some of our initiatives are starting to pay off. A couple of TV shows have contacted us to talk about filming here. It’s hard to gauge why this is happening, but it’s exciting.”
Verigin-Burk is a champion of collaboration, viewing it as a common-sense measure that leverages the resources of individuals or groups for maximum effect.
“We’re exploring the potential for regional collaboration in everything we’re doing,” she said. “Working in a silo is neither effective nor sustainable in the long term.”
A recent exercise in local collaboration resulted in exciting progressive action, creating and filling two key positions: a director for Destination Castlegar (Andrea Ryman of Endless Adventures started in that position in March 2016) and a director for a new economic development pilot program—the first since the 1990s. That position should be filled by the end of March. The chamber worked with the business community, Columbia Basin Trust, the regional district and the mayor’s office to make this happen.
In January Verigin-Burk attended a meeting of the Highway 3 Mayors & Chairs Coalition, a long-standing group that is marketing Highway 3 from Princeton, B.C., to the Alberta border. Part of its current focus is establishing charging stations for electric cars along that stretch of the highway. The February meeting of the coalition takes place in Creston.
The group is working with Destination BC and Kootenay Rockies Tourism to look at assets and gaps to assist in development of opportunities for regional promotion of Highway 3.
Castlegar’s first-ever Business Walk was held in May 2016, with an overwhelmingly positive response. Based on that response, the walk will be an annual event. The findings from the walk will help the chamber and the City with planning.
Verigin-Burk listed the top three stated reasons that people enjoy doing business in Castlegar: clientele, location on or near Highway 3 and affordability of doing business, including overhead and taxes. The biggest challenge, as revealed by the business community, is the shortage of skilled labour.
“Attracting potential employees to the area is important to a lot of businesses, and we have to figure out a way to solve the problem,” said Verigin-Burk. “The CEO of the B.C. chamber is coming here at the end of February, and the Castlegar chamber is hosting a meeting for large-scale businesses to discuss challenges in rural areas, such as skilled labour and transportation. The unfortunate circumstances of layoffs in Alberta kind of helped us to increase our skilled labour, but that will be coming to an end should new Northern projects come to fruition.”
Also revealed by the Business Walk were areas where the chamber of commerce can offer training, and succession planning is top of the list.
During 2017, Verigin-Burk will continue to work to secure funding for construction of a new, larger office to house the chamber, visitor centre, Destination Castlegar and the economic development office. Once the final funding is in place, a date will be set to break ground.
The chamber will continue to offer networking events,which have a proven record of value to the business community. In addition to welcoming the city’s new economic development officer, Verigin-Burk looks forward to the annual West Kootenay trade show scheduled for April 21 to 23, the second Business Walk, the annual Business Excellence Awards and an active, festival-filled summer.