New Chamber of Commerce board begins term in the midst of pandemic uncertainty

The Swift Current and District Chamber of Commerce had a chance to reflect on a successful 2019 during their Annual General Meeting on April 30.

The video linked meeting featured the presentation of a series of reports and traditional business, but clearly the impact of COVID-19 measures on the local business community was in the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Newly elected Chairperson Ken Linsley said local businesses have shown their resiliency by finding ways to connect with customers despite having to close their doors during govenrment restrictions placed back in March.

“I think we’ve seen our local businesses really rally around alternate ways of conducting business as well, and we’ve tried to help them as much as we can from that side of things. If we can continue to be a collective voice it’s going to make us stronger and come out of this better,” Linsley said.

He anticipates the Chamber will continue a focus on some of their traditionally successful offerings, but getting that programming to their members will be a challenge.

“I think ultimately our priorities will be very similar to what they’ve been in the past. The big change is going to be how we deliver the message. Obviously a lot of what we do is in person – in network sessions, and lunch and learns – all of those things as groups. So I think going forward how we deliver those things is going to change, but as far as our engagement with our membership I think we’ll continue to do that as we always have. It’ll just be again how we deliver it relative to the current pandemic.”

“Part of our goal will be to continue that open line of communication much like what we had today, and bring as much information to our membership as we can,” Linsley said following last Thursday’s AGM.

During the meeting, Chamber CEO Karla Wiens shared a series of 2019 highlights, including the success of the Live Here Shop Here campaign which was piloted this past fall. This campaign was a Chamber of Commerce advertising promotion they conducted exclusively on their website and through their social media channels.

“Live Here, Shop Here highlights our local businesses, the importance of supporting local in many various ways, which I’m certain we can all agree on is more important now than ever before,” Wiens said. “We are currently faced with the most challenging environment our business community has ever faced before due to COVID-19. Your local Chamber, on behalf of our members, is collaborating very closely with provincial and national Chambers, also government officials, to address your concerns, provide suggestions, distribute information, and help you navigate through this challenging time.”

She noted their advertising campaign brought an important focus on shopping local and reminding people to support the local business community.

“Really the goal of that entire campaign was, in addition to connecting to our members, was to really, really megaphone the message of supporting local is hugely important,” she said.

“From a Chamber’s perspective we felt that was a complimentary service that we wanted to offer our members to help showcase and help them promote their business in an internal fashion.”

The past year was also the third year of their current strategic plan which the board drafted in 2018. The plan places a focus on membership, communications, administration and finance, with measurable targets to gauge their successes.

The plan sets growth targets of between five and 10 per cent each year, and the Chamber achieved six per cent net growth in 2018 and a seven per cent net growth in 2019. They also achieved a 97 per cent membership retention rate over the past two years, just shy of their 98 per cent target.

Wiens is hoping that their upcoming year retention rates will be equally strong.

“That’s a concern. As a member driven organization, just like any non-profit, when businesses are suffering they are looking to cut their expenses. So from a Chamber’s perspective we have strived hard to demonstrate our benefits to our members.”

“We want to be able to help our members to help bounce out of this and into the recovery phase.”

“We’re fully aware that there are going to be and will be some businesses closed throughout the country. I’m hoping that’s minimal in our corner of the world. But there are some people suffering. We are definitely recognizing this is a very emotional time for our business owners and we want to be respectful of that and treat our business members with compassion. So when people are struggling we certainly would like to have a discussion and make arrangements as necessary.”