By Dan Walton
As local economic needs shift, so too does the role of the Chamber of Commerce – and right now the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce is in a period of self reflection.
For various reasons, three directors and the former executive director all departed around the same time earlier this year. Instead of replacing the position of executive director, Chamber member Veronica Vinge is taking a six-month leave from her duties as a board member to focus on restructuring efforts. Vinge said the Chamber isn’t necessarily going to replace the position of executive director, and may instead hire contract workers to fill the role.
“Do we hire some specialists, membership and marketing and administration to get the right skills and talents in place as opposed to just one person who wears all hats?” Vinge contemplated, adding that she will not be taking over the role of the executive director.
Although the Chamber hasn’t yet completed its new road map, Vinge said that a stronger presence on social media would be a larger part of their future. The Chamber will be re-evaluating how it goes about using traditional media, though Vinge said audiences in the South Okanagan seem to read local newspapers more than their urban counterparts. Also, the best methods for communicating with members will continue to be fine-tuned with more face-to-face communication.
The Chamber is still very active during this period of reconstruction. They have a meeting coming up with Accelerate Okanagan in hopes of spurring more tech-industry investment in the area. And Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen will be hosting a series of training events for marketing and social media.
“It’s an exciting time,” Vinge said. “The growth opportunities in our region are huge and the opportunity for our Chamber to play a vital role in supporting our businesses is there.”
But it isn’t business as usual just yet.
“We’re not defining it as normal or the new normal; we’ll be completing this new restructuring then we will review in November,” she said.
Chamber president Brian Highley said the organization will be placing its eggs in different baskets from now on, stepping back from events planning to focus stronger on economic development.
Also moving forward, downtown revitalization efforts in Oliver will be taking up more of the Chamber’s energy, he said, and they’re also in talks right now to create a program with the Kelowna Airport to shuttle flyers into the South Okanagan. Furthermore, there will be even deeper conversations with members to gain insight into policy writing, so that the local Chamber can advance its ideas to the BC Chamber and then lobby the provincial government accordingly.
The Chamber is also collaborating with the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos and the regional district for Okanagan Falls to complete a feasibility study for a Regional Business Support Program.
“We’re also hoping to plug into nearby networks in a more meaningful way – try and connect with neighbouring chambers,” said Highley.
Right now there are around 300 members on the local chamber. The number of board members, which was increased to 11 earlier this year, has dropped back down to nine after the attrition.
The Chamber is actively recruiting to fill the vacant positions, with the goal of equal representation from all three areas: Oliver, Osoyoos and Okanagan Falls.