One-on-one with Helen Barron, executive director of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce

“Cranbrook has done well in staying on top of the constant need to pivot and adapt.” — Helen Barron

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Helen Barron smiles. She has long curly brown hair and wears a white shirt.

Helen Barron took over as executive director for the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce in February 2020, one month before COVID-19 became a pandemic. — Photo courtesy Helen Barron

Cranbrook—like every other Kootenay community—has had to modify its operations in the last year. For Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce executive director Helen Barron, those adjustments have had to come in quick succession from the time she took over at her current position. Barron became executive director in February 2020, one month before COVID-19 officially became a pandemic. Since that time, Barron and the Chamber have been reworking how they do business by implementing necessary changes to their procedures and taking the initiative on other projects that could be improved.

Here’s what Baron and the Cranbrook Chamber have been working on this past year, and what’s still to come in 2021.

What motivated you to become executive director for Cranbrook?

I love the Chamber and the work we do. I am highly invested in our work and have learned a great deal about Cranbrook and the Chamber during my position as Member Coordinator. I felt I had a good understanding about the direction the Chamber could take operationally to ensure we are staying relevant to our membership. My education is in sustainable business administration and when the position opened, I felt that it was the perfect opportunity for me and that I had a great deal to offer the Chamber as the executive director.

What accomplishments has Cranbrook seen in the past year?

I am constantly taken aback by the strength and agility of our local businesses. Although it has not been an easy year for business by any means, Cranbrook has done well in staying on top of the constant need to pivot and adapt. The city has seen much growth in the past year despite all the challenges brought on by COVID.

What challenges has Cranbrook had to overcome in the past year (such as the COVID-19 pandemic)? How did you adapt?

Our organization needed to pivot quickly to ensure that we were providing the necessary support and information for businesses in Cranbrook. We had to act quickly to update our website and shift from being a heavily face-to-face events-based organization to offering virtual learning opportunities, promotional opportunities, and relevant information around business support for members. Our business community has done incredible work to shift to online sales and e-commerce, as well as adjusting business models to meet the current needs through the pandemic.

What’s on the horizon for Cranbrook in the coming year?

The Chamber is working on a lot of exciting things this year. We will be putting on several webinars and workshops for our membership. Among these are our Talent Forward webinar, which focuses on connecting business to college student talent and available funding for work placements.

We will also be hosting a number of Step Code workshops throughout the region to help prepare business for Step Code as it is implemented.

We will be holding our Business Excellence awards this fall and, depending on COVID, this will either be done as a virtual campaign or face-to-face. We hope to have a few small golfing events over the summer and will be celebrating small business week in October with a series of workshops.

The Chamber will also be placing a strong focus on continuing to understand what supports are required of our membership so that we can continue to further develop programming based on those needs.

Internally the Chamber is focusing on streamlining our procedures by moving to a new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform and focusing on the professional development of our staff. The pandemic has also brought to light many areas that require the advocacy work of our Chamber and the BC Chamber network. We will continue to support our members through our grassroots advocacy work to ensure that the voice of business is heard loud and clear by all levels of government.

What do you love most about living in Cranbrook?

Aside from the pure beauty of our surroundings, the sense of community is what I love most about Cranbrook. Regardless of what is going on, the people of Cranbrook always come together to take care of one another when it is needed.

What are some challenges unique to Cranbrook?

Cranbrook has faced many of the same challenges as other parts of our region during the pandemic but, despite that, Cranbrook is in a state of growth. It is challenging for the housing availability to keep up with the increasing needs.

If you could do one thing to improve Cranbrook regardless of cost, what would you do?

What I would do is already being worked on by Cranbrook’s City Council. I would love to see the downtown core become further developed and I know that the council and the great staff at the City are focusing on making this happen. This will be a very positive move for Cranbrook and will go a long way to bolstering our tourism sector.

What is your personal passion project, beyond work?

My music. I am a singer-songwriter who loves to perform. Pre-pandemic, I spent a fair bit of my time writing, playing, and performing music at different venues throughout the Kootenays. Aside from that, I am of course passionate about raising my family.

Kyle Born

Kyle Born is a writer for Kootenay Business and his initials match that of the magazine—it must be fate that brought them together. View all of Kyle Born’s articles

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