Corrie Adolph has only been on the job for a few weeks, but she’s already shaking up the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce (SOCC) in a big way, pulling out of the Festival of the Grape and handing it over to the Oliver Tourism Association.
Her goal as president, she says, is to “realign” the organization’s objectives so they better match up with its mandate, which she says is promoting an environment where businesses in the communities can thrive.
Although she’s been visiting the South Okanagan for years, Adolph is a relative newcomer to the Okanagan Valley. She arrived for good in 2013, after an eclectic career that included working as a strategic advisor for the Conservative Party of Canada and conducting employment training with First Nations communities in Alberta. Her original plan was to retire here, but that plan was decidedly short-lived.
“After one summer of doing nothing, I was gouging my eyes out, so I started a bed and breakfast so I would have a little bit of work to do,” she said.
She ran Global Village Bed and Breakfast for a couple of years, observing the political dynamic until she felt she had something to contribute to the area.
Once she decided to get more involved, she set her sights on the SOCC.
“I believed, as I think many other people believed, that the chamber could be doing a better job for business in the South Okanagan,” she said.
In her eyes, the chamber has been spending so much time and energy organizing the Festival of the Grape (FOG) that “they really didn’t have time to be an advocate and voice for business.”
The FOG is a popular wine tasting festival that attracts thousands of people to Oliver each year.
The event takes an incredible amount of time to plan and Adolph said that has meant other aspects of the chamber’s mandate – advocating for local businesses and creating policy to help them thrive – have been “neglected.”
To fix that, Adolph plans to hand the event over to the Oliver Tourism Association (OTA).
Already, the chamber and OTA are in the process of finalizing a strategic alliance that will see the OTA gradually take over organization of the event in three years.
In the interim, the chamber and OTA will plan the FOG together, splitting resources and the revenue the event generates.
The FOG is a significant source of income for the chamber, and Adolph admitted that handing it off will mean a financial squeeze. She said she is confident she can replace that money with the fees from the increased membership she is convinced the chamber will see once it has “realigned” its objectives with its mandate.
With the FOG off its hands, Adolph said the chamber would have more time to advocate for local businesses, organize speakers and events for its members, and hear directly from its membership.
“That’s what chambers were designed to do, and that’s what we’re going to do,” she said.
Adolph said she is excited by the potential that Oliver and the South Okanagan have, but would like to see the region aim a little higher.
She still remembers talking to an Oliver councillor when she first arrived here, and asking him what kind of businesses the town needed. She said she doesn’t recall which councillor it was, but he told her he didn’t believe Oliver needed anything.
“And I thought, OK, that could be a problem,” she said. “When we are afraid of change, when we accept the status quo as the best we can do, then I think that’s a problem.
“I think that all organizations, all municipalities, all jurisdictions need to have an attitude that we can always do better, and I think Oliver can do better. I think we are rich in this area with opportunity to create exactly what we want for this area, and it’s about having a commitment to raising the bar for ourselves.”
As president of the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce, she said she hopes to help make that happen.
“I think the chamber has a great team that has pulled together, recognized some of the mistakes that have been made in the past, and we’re all really committed to moving forward. We’re ready to be leaders: we’re ready in all earnestness to take on the challenges of our businesses,” she said.
By Trevor Nichols