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New year, new directions for Squamish Chamber

Business community gearing up for new opportunities in coming months

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It's a paradoxical time for the business community in Squamish. With the new year comes a new direction from the Chamber of Commerce, which represents about a third of businesses in the district.

There's also a new and receptive mayor and council preparing a budget, even as they tinker with the district's economic development machine. Then, of course, there's that financial crisis, which seems on a daily basis to generate more storm clouds than monsoon India does in an entire season.

"Depending on what your business is, there are some people who are quite nervous," said Margo Dent, president of the Squamish chamber.

There are those, she said, who are safe in their own positions - top dogs secure thanks to their position up the ladder. But those same people have employees to fret over, and those employees have families. As Dent said, this is a very trying time for some.

And so, with 600 members to worry about, the chamber is on a back to basics campaign. There are four main sections to its 2009 strategy. Though they're still pending the outcome of a membership review, which was scheduled for Feb. 10, they're described as operations, membership obligations, economic development and preparations for the 2010 Olympics.

Membership plays a key role. All events and policies in some way revolve around membership satisfaction. The chamber, after all, is a business; it seeks to satisfy its customers, which is part of the way it achieves financial sustainability.

Satisfying customers, especially this particular set, involves a great many things. There's ever a need for solid partnerships, both within the business community and without. Consider local government, for example.

"That almost goes without saying," said the chamber's first vice president, Darren McCartney.

On the one hand, that may not be too difficult. During his first official address, Mayor Greg Gardner encouraged more lobbying and communication from the chamber during a recent business lunch. He celebrated the influential nature of the organization - and he was joined in his efforts by the entire council.

"We've got a pretty good working relationship with council," said McCartney. "As a board, we were happy to see everyone at our business lunch. I don't remember when we've had three (councillors in attendance), not to say anything about previous councils."
On the other hand, there could be trying relations in the future. The budget is forthcoming, and the chamber expects that document to embody changes, though neither Dent nor McCartney offered details. Further, the district is looking over the structure of the Squamish Sustainability Corporation (SSC), which has implications for Dave Thomson, the business development lead with that organization. Exactly what implications, no one is yet sure, though the district's economic development committee said the SSC chair does not consider economic development as a primary function of the organization.

Meanwhile, the chamber consider its partnership with Thomson, which recently took the form of the 2008 Best Local Business Awards, a fruitful one - just as it enjoys its relationship with the Business Improvement Area.

"I know the district is reviewing all spending on all programs right now," continued McCartney. "If they're looking at that, it makes sense to look at everything. But we don't have a position as a board."

As far as the financial crisis goes, Dent and McCartney think Squamish is better positioned than most communities. There's the Olympics, said McCartney, as well as the highway development and a general economic interest in the town. Still, as Dent said earlier, some businesses are feeling stressed and stretched.

And so the chamber encourages its members to participate in the available opportunities, especially while they're either free or extremely affordable. She points to the 2010 Commerce Group workshops, which have cost $20.10. There's also the RBC workshops, one of which was free and detailed the drafting of request for proposals (RFPs), a common way of securing business these days - just look at VANOC's RFP for pocket cruise ships, the deadline of which only recently passed.

"Having said that," said Dent, "it's only as useful as it is if people are taking advantage of them. I really have a thing about people expecting others to do things for their business. If there's a speaker at a chamber lunch, you should be standing there listening to it."

Having said that, the chamber knows one of its core roles lies in classic power-in-numbers politics. That, in fact, is one of the sales pitches it uses to the larger business community. That pitch can be padded out by coming realities, things like the budget, Garibaldi at Squamish and the Oceanfront development.

"As one little business, you only have one voice in town," said Dent. And that's one more reason why businesses should belong to the chamber, so they have the power of a bigger voice speaking for them."

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