Fernie chamber, 2018 report

The Fernie chamber of commerce is working to meet the needs of its business community

(L to R) Graeme Nunn (Rockies Law), president, Fernie chamber board; Patty Vadnais, Fernie chamber executive director; Anita Palmer (College of the Rockies, Fernie campus), Fernie chamber board vice-president

(L to R) Graeme Nunn (Rockies Law), president, Fernie chamber board; Patty Vadnais, Fernie chamber executive director; Anita Palmer (College of the Rockies, Fernie campus), Fernie chamber board vice-president — Photo courtesy Fernie Chamber of Commerce

Patty Vadnais has been heading up the Fernie Chamber of Commerce since May 2015, and she’s still having fun. “I get to work with 270 businesses that make Fernie awesome, and it’s such a positive thing,” she said. “Fernie is a community of doers and problem solvers.”

Here’s some of what the chamber has been up to recently:

  • Recruited 33 new members for the Fernie chamber
  • Trained 330 Fernie residents as local tourism ambassadors
  • As a followup to the ambassador program, developed a mystery shopper program to enable businesses to measure improvements in customer service; program to be launched early in 2018
  • Conducted a co-working feasibility study; as a result of interest in this option the chamber is now seeking appropriate commercial/office space
  • Took on the role of co-ordinator of the Elk Valley Economic Development Initiative and submitted grant applications to fund a number of projects, beginning with an Elk Valley economic asset inventory and an Elk Valley regional investment profile.

“Also, at our Business, Beer and Banter events we’ve started doing Facebook Live videos,” Vadnais said. “Lindsay, our membership services co-ordinator, interviews people who attend, and it becomes kind of a little commercial for them—they get to say what their business is and who would likely be buying their services. It’s something new and fun and really well received.”

Focus on 2018

Like many communities, Fernie is dealing with a housing shortage. Because local businesses are directly affected by the lack of housing, the chamber of commerce is active in the search for solutions.

“One of our big goals for 2018 is to keep the housing discussion moving and get some action plans in place to build housing supply,” Vadnais said. “Our business survey showed 100 positions open in the 60 businesses that participated. If 100 people came to town to fill those positions, there’d be no place for them to live. One of the big needs is for a developer to come in and build some rental housing—not necessarily even low-rental product, just rental product in general. Apartments would be ideal.”

Patty Vadnais (foreground, standing) presents a proposal at the annual general meeting of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. — Photo courtesy Fernie Chamber of Commerce

The chamber has several additional priorities on its agenda:

  • Work with City Hall and businesses to streamline zoning and development application processes, and arrive at incentives to encourage more commercial, office, industrial and residential developments
  • Hold a business walk in 2018 as a followup to the business retention and expansion survey from 2015
  • Build a “shop local, shop late” promotion to support the local businesses that support local events and organizations that make Fernie awesome
  • Support business development and retention through education, bringing in experts to talk to existing businesses on relevant topics
  • Continue to set up the mobile information kiosk funded by Destination BC at local events. “We’ll go to where the visitors are instead of trying to get them to come to us,” Vadnais said. “We’ll be at the ski hill on busy days, for instance, and some of the farmers markets.”

“We’re here to connect people with resources,” she added. “Our business people are busy. They don’t have a lot of time to do research and find tools—like for succession planning, for instance. It’s not on their radar until it needs to be done. It’s about seeing where the gaps are and then putting things in place so nothing falls through. If we can give them these tools and the links to resources, that’s a win for us.”

Marie Milner

Marie Milner is a writer and photographer for Kootenay Business magazine and several other publications. She appreciates the inspiration that she gets during her interviews and hopes to share that inspiration with you. View all of Marie Milner’s articles

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