Columbia Valley Chamber 2016
The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce has turned its attention to regional economic development
In mid-March Kootenay Business contacted Susan Clovechok, executive director of the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, to find out what the chamber has been focused on recently and what the most important issue is for the business community right now.
“What really has our attention is economic development,” Clovechok said. “Three years ago the chamber was focused on tourism and marketing and branding, and ways to attract people to the area. Now, that objective has a life of its own and its own momentum. We’ll always be there to support it, but we don’t need to be involved to the same degree.”
In November 2015, a group of people from various industry sectors came together and put in about $129,500 to develop and execute a Columbia Valley regional marketing and branding plan. Destination British Columbia added $103,200 to the funding, and that work is moving forward. It doesn’t need the daily focus and support of the chamber, so now the chamber has turned its attention to economic development.
“When I started this position five years ago,” Clovechok said, “the communities in the Columbia Valley operated independently, with varying degrees of success. At that time we got some great advice from Lyle Oberg: ‘Stop thinking as individual communities—you’ve got to start thinking as a region.’ I will never forget that—it was like music to my ears.
“Now, when you look at all of the initiatives that the communities are collaborating on, and the success of those initiatives, it’s inspiring. In many respects, we’ve done what we set out to do five years ago.”
At a recent economic development workshop facilitated by the BC Economic Development Association, it was stated that the collaborative efforts of the Columbia Valley communities are unique, commendable and a model for other regions. Clovechok believes that the key to successful collaboration is to focus on the areas where the players are in agreement. A strong foundation for collaboration can be built on those areas.
To support and retain existing businesses, the chamber and municipal officers—more than 40, including some volunteers—visited 125 businesses in Canal Flats, Fairmont Hot Springs, Windermere, Invermere and Radium Hot Springs in the valley’s first Business Walk. Clovechok sees this initiative as an extremely valuable tool with the potential to make a significant impact on the future of business in the valley.
“We got some great feedback,” she said. “The optimism was inspiring, and our chamber’s strategic plan will be based on the information we collected during the Business Walk.”
It makes sense that the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce is seen as an economic development player. The chamber is always working on opportunities to attract and grow businesses and is invited to various events and seminars that have an economic development focus. Recently Clovechok attended a land use workshop put on by the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism & Skills Training. She also attended the Economic Development Building Blocks Workshop put on by the B.C. Economic Development Association in partnership with the ministry. That event was attended by local government, Kootenay Employment Services, Imagine Kootenay and others.
“We’re on the Residential Attraction & Retention Committee as well, which is part of economic development,” Clovechok said. “We’re advocating for an economic development office to serve the region. That will go a long way to making sure that our valley is a strong and resilient socio-economic region.”