Waterfront Development

I recently had the good fortune to tour North Vancouver’s waterfront led by Mayor Darrell Mussatto and Councillor Linda Buchanan. We also got to experience the launch of their Friday Night Food Truck Festival, but that’s a whole different story for next month!

Just over a year ago, North Vancouver published their ‘Central Waterfront Development Plan’ describing a vision to rehabilitate their historic industrial waterfront. Five words: ‘this vision is about people’ kicks off the 65-page report.

Some highlights of the plan’s mission include statements like “culturally and historically rich, it must be a year round gathering place, be void of vehicles yet accessible, make it intimate, must be programmed and must be monetized”. In the end, the report cited these among the ‘ten commandments’ of downtown waterfront development.

Their project is quickly becoming a ‘people place’ of outstanding proportions. As Mayor Mussatto led me running up and down the piers, around construction barricades, and over graveled environmental remediation sites, through a 750 seat “Tap & Barrel” restaurant (to open this summer), I couldn’t stop making comparisons with Nanaimo’s South Downtown Waterfront. In North Van, the pace of progress seemed incredibly rapid in contrast with our experience in Nanaimo. When I questioned how you turn a plan into reality in such a short time frame, his answer was simple.

Choose the best help to help develop and define your community’s vision, get buy-in from elected leaders — because it’s the right thing to do, ensure staff understands clearly what plan they’re following, and move forward with deliberation and commitment. Most importantly, “don’t sweat the small stuff”.

North Vancouver’s modus operandi is simple, the ten points of their mission clearly detail their vision and their committed actions demonstrate they’re moving forward with determination on behalf of the community. Is this a model that we could be following more closely here? Is it possible to consider North Van as a ‘best practice’ to adopt for our South Downtown Waterfront?

Can we try doing it that way, and be careful not to ‘sweat the small stuff’? The evidence of a potentially incredible successful outcome is there, and from what I saw it looked VERY good for business. And that’s good for any community.

Kim Smythe, CEO

June 2015

Social Enterprise Catalyst Finalists Announced

A few months ago I wrote to bring readers up to speed on a growing business movement known as ‘Social Enterprise’. I announced there would be an event this spring called ‘Catalyst’ offering $50,000 in cash and technical services to a social enterprise. Catalyst is on May 20 at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo and the finalists in the dragons’ den-style event have been selected.

We are pleased to announce that NANAIMO SCIENCE & SUSTAINABILITY CENTRE (NS3), SKOOKUM CAFÉ, and TOFINO UCLUELET CULINARY GUILD (TUCG) will be the finalists presenting at the Catalyst Gala for a chance at $50,000 in combined cash and technical services.

TUCG’s goal is to assist restaurants, residents and grocery stores of the west coast to access healthy and affordable food from the region’s independent producers. Skookum Café offers high quality, locally focused food and beverages and provides youth in the West Shore communities the opportunity to gain employment and life skills in a safe and supportive environment. The mission of Nanaimo’s NS3 is to inspire children and develop their interest in science and sustainability through hands-on learning.

Social enterprises are business organizations – mainly not-for-profits — whose mission, conduct and revenue stream address a cultural, social and/or environmental need. Profits are targeted to a common good through the sales of products and services and many also focus on employing people with barriers. Local examples include “Code Brew” – the coffee kiosk at NRGH, Coco’s Café in Cedar and some of our local thrift shops. Catalyst is an event created to celebrate this movement.

The Catalyst dragons’ den stage show is preceded by an ‘Offer-tunity Fair’ in the lobby of the Port Theatre. Many Catalyst applicants, as well as resource services and community supports, will have information tables open at 5:30 pm, with the Gala starting at 6:30. Keynote speaker will be Vickie Cammack, founder of Tyze Personal and a ground-breaking pioneer in the world of social enterprise and innovation. Vickie recently received the Order of Canada for her work, and was recognized by the Globe and Mail as one of Canada’s Top 100 most powerful women.

The day after the Catalyst Gala, Vancouver Island University is hosting a ‘Day of Learning’ focused on social enterprise. Keynote speakers, panels and presentations will address more in-depth subject areas relating to this business movement.

For more information, to reserve your seats at the Port Theatre, or register for Day of Learning go to secatalyst.ca. Or call me at the Chamber: 250-756-1191.

Kim Smythe

May 2015


We’re proud to point out that one of our core services at the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce is “community and government advocacy”. But what are we advocating for, who are we advocating to, and what are the outcomes and benefits for businesses and the community?

Sometimes it can be as simple as solving a licensing or permit problem by working with an individual member on a specific issue. More often than not, it is at a higher strategic level, more proactive and less visible. There is significant community value in what your Chamber does at each level of government, and the voice it expresses for the community.

In the past year we have helped host several senior federal government cabinet ministers visiting our community. Our communications goal is to create awareness around infrastructure needs for our community and impress upon them the essential importance of Nanaimo to the mid and north Vancouver Island communities. Between the Airport, Port Authority and VIU we have identified the need for over $150 million of funding to help grow our economy in the next two decades. If we didn’t bring these Ministers to town, they’d never understand the importance of the mid-Island’s projects or have enough familiarity with our community to being to motivate their future support. Our latest Ministerial visits included Ministers of State Michelle Rempel and John Duncan as keynote speakers at the Nanaimo Chamber luncheon on April 8, 2015.

We’ve also hosted numerous senior provincial cabinet ministers to seek their support for projects and give Nanaimo’s business community a bit of an advantage in Victoria. In the past few weeks we’ve hosted the Minister of Transportation, Minister of Advanced Education and Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation to Chamber events and closed-door meetings with civic and community leaders.

Meanwhile at City Hall, we are promoting conversation around a freeze on commercial tax increases, have started high level work on our ‘Green Tape’ Policy Review Committee with its goal of cutting bureaucratic barriers (and needless expense) for business, and finally talking on the issue of Food Trucks in our community.

Our members support this work through their annual membership dues. Stay tuned and see what else the Chamber is doing with government to make it easier for the business community to prosper and build a better community through better business.

Kim Smythe

April 2015

Business “Over-Achievers” Named

The 15th Annual Business Achievement Awards were held in March to celebrate those who excel daily in our business community. In an effort to make sure Nanaimo’s only comprehensive business award maintains relevancy, we tied this year’s categories and values to the pillars and principles of Successful Cities.

Successful Cities are defined as vibrant, convivial, urban settings. They are based on five pillars — balanced cultural, economic, social vision and the built and natural environments — and engage in actions that value community well-being and aim for a higher quality of life. This is our vision for Nanaimo, so we thought we’d pattern our Awards after these themes.

In the category of Natural Environment, we awarded honours in Tourism to Harbour Air – Canada’s first carbon neutral airline, and recognized M.C. Wright & Associates – a biological consulting and software development firm for the ‘Science’ award.

Under Cultural Vitality, honours in The Arts went to the Wellington Jazz Academy – ongoing international award winners — while the Innovation honours went to Dog n’ Suds for their pioneering business practices.

Our Economic Development ‘Stalwart’ award went home with Woodgrove Centre – based on their successful growth over the years and their impact on the local economy. The ‘Start Up’ award went to Tilray – less than a year old with over 100 employees with considerably greater ‘growth’ on their horizon.

Social Considerations acknowledged Social Enterprise and was handed over to Code Brew – the hospital coffee kiosk which has recently expanded to a second location, while the Institutional award recognized Nanaimo Community Hospice Society for their vital work.

Design, architecture and engineering, as part of the Built Environment, recognized RW (Bob) Wall for their ongoing achievements in changing the look of Nanaimo. Westmark Construction was honoured for their continuing commitment to excellence in the Construction & Development category.

Finally, we were compelled to look toward the future and recognize ‘Youth’ nominees. This year there were two and the judges could not determine which of them to honour, so we made the decision to recognize both Kenton Dick, successful musician from the Wellington Jazz Academy and Gina Mowatt from the Gitxsan First Nation for her inspiring work with aboriginal youth.

Out of nearly 6,000 hard working businesses in Nanaimo, these are the ones who rose to the top in these awards. Surely the outcomes are debatable, but we have to be proud to look over this list of over-achievers.

Kim Smythe, CEO

April 2015

Food Trucks in Nanaimo

By now everyone is very familiar with a phenomena that started about a decade ago in many cities where food is sold and served curbside from a truck or trailer with a kitchen on board.

What started as hot dog carts in the park has grown to include a wide variety of foods served from mobile locations – sometimes ethnic, often featuring local or organic ingredients, usually served in paper wrap or trays, and somehow best enjoyed while you’re hanging out on a street corner. Hours of television are devoted to ‘street eats’ and, in most cities, thousands of people daily dine at one of these colourful and creative ‘restaurants on wheels’. Victoria and Vancouver offer great examples, but even Courtenay, Duncan and Parksville are now developing a food truck culture.

But not in Nanaimo! A couple of food trucks made appearances in recent years and struggled to survive regulatory approval, appropriate operating terms and spaces, and… customers in the locations the city would permit. Most, unfortunately, failed under the weight of bureaucracy. Now, the Vancouver Island Food Truck Association, a loose knit group of operators, are trying to break through in some smaller communities that have been a challenge, ours included.

A few enthusiastic entrepreneurs are proposing a new approach to the city through the Chamber. It’s well known from experience that food trucks and carts do not pose an unfair advantage over restaurant operators. Food trucks act as an attraction and a destination unto themselves. When gathered together, they present a roving ‘food festival’. When used to provide food at community events, in festivals and in parks, they are a lively addition to the festivities replacing the tired, old approach to concession stands where a city would operate, or license, a permanent structure to churn out the same old, same old dogs and fries or plastic wrapped pre-made sandwiches.

Is Nanaimo ready? Can you see it now – on our city streets downtown, at our beaches, in our parks? Should we support and encourage our community to seek ‘friendly’ regulation and permitting policies? If you say yes, let Mayor and Council know or tell the Chamber you’re on board with street eats in Nanaimo. Call me or email your opinion to ceo@nanaimochamber.bc.ca 250-756-1191

Kim Smythe, CEO

March 2015


2015 Chamber Presentation to City Council

During the election, the Chamber of Commerce conducted a community awareness campaign with the goal of increasing voter turnout by one third. Several community organizations contributed to Nanaimo actually meeting that goal – a 30% increase in voting day turnout which has delivered new opportunities!

As Council has been made aware, the Chamber operates independent of public funding which permits us to bring the position of the business community before you without any bias or concerns over funding discrimination.

For the first time, Council is starting on a four-year term. We ask you to consider carefully the legacy you want to leave at the end of that four years and work towards that legacy from today onward.

In consideration of that, we offer the Chamber’s 2014 election platform as guiding principles and philosophies for Council for this term:
Leadership & Teamwork – The Chamber encourages Council to set a clear direction and define the vision it intends to pursue for the City. Council needs to seek consensus with the community and collaborate with its partners to meet goals more efficiently and achieve its vision.

Maximize Core Service Efficiencies – Don’t spend what you don’t need to! There are many models for program and service reviews that can help us ensure the city budget is delivering the greatest value for the services demanded by the taxpayer. And… your staff can be your best friend here!

Transparency & Community Input – Every candidate committed to open communications. Now, Council members needs to seek meaningful, ongoing input from residents — in every format and through every medium. Council should be engaging in two-way communications and adopt strategies to reflect community input in policy-making.

Be Informed, Engaged and Responsible – The community needs you to focus on making informed decisions, permitting you to vote on the value of a proposition, not the politics of it — especially in the heat of the moment.

Strive for Community Prosperity – Initiate policies that promote healthy private, public and not-for-profit business activity partnering with organizations that help obtain results. Job creation, and a strong local economy, are based on these sectors’ sustained health and growth.

Here are six action items prioritized by the Chamber for incoming Council. Our membership includes many individuals and businesses equipped to make your job easier. Chamber members would like to play a continuing role supporting Council in these areas:

1) Updating the 2012-2015 Corporate Strategic Plan to keep pace with Council’s vision for the coming term and 5 year Financial Plan. The Chamber would assist in integrating the principles of its Successful Cities program again to the City’s updated plan.

2) Leading a ‘Green Tape’ Committee — a Mayor’s Task Force or Standing Committee seeking areas where municipal processes can be streamlined and made more user-friendly. The goal is to remove bureaucratic barriers and ease congestion.

3) Reviewing development & building permit procedures… compare with best practices from other communities, seek efficiencies and define processes to meet stakeholder needs.

4) Overhauling Sign Bylaws… with the Chamber taking a lead position on a Mayor’s Task Force to reduce duplication of regulations and collaborate on goals for reasonable legislation and aesthetic oversight.

5) Core Review: Thanks for moving ahead so quickly on a process the Chamber has been promoting for years. Let’s make sure we define achievable goals in the ‘discovery process’, and choose an EXTERNALLY GUIDED review that includes broad community and stakeholder participation opportunities. Most importantly, we must follow through on implementation. The Chamber looks forward to being part of the community that must be part of the process.

6) Relaxing the current, inordinate burden on commercial property owners by freezing tax increases on Commercial Rate Payers until 2020. We have a comprehensive presentation we’d like to make to Committee of the Whole and the Finance Committee where we can demonstrate the positive value proposition of this over a five year financial plan.

Delivered at February 16, 2015 City Council meeting

Social Enterprise Builds our Business Base

There’s a new business movement growing among us. It’s called ‘social enterprise’ and it’s coming to a corner store (or other business) near you. Get ready to compete… or collaborate.

A ‘social enterprise’ is defined as a business organization – mainly non-profits — whose mission, conduct and revenue stream address a cultural, social and/or environmental need as their principal goal. Profits are targeted to the common good through sales of products and services. Many of these businesses also offer employment to people who face barriers to mainstream employment. They’re not all charities and, indeed, for-profit businesses can also operate at social enterprises.

Local examples include “Code Brew” – the fantastic coffee kiosk in the lobby of Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. They’ve opened a second location in the Millstone Medical Centre, and have plans for more soon. Bought something at a thrift shop? Been to the Recycling Exchange? Bought a book at Literacy Nanaimo’s downtown bookstore? You’ve done business with a social enterprise who, combined, contribute millions to the local economy.

‘Social Enterprise Catalyst’ is an event that celebrates this movement. It highlights available resources to support the development and growth of local, social enterprise-based businesses. Catalyst partners are all key parts of the social enterprise eco-system including credit unions, banks and the financial management sector, foundations, mentors, educational institutions, sector specialists and consultants, Chambers of Commerce and the provincial government.

The first Catalyst Gala was held in Victoria in April of 2014 where a “Dragon’s Den” style event saw three non-profit social entrepreneurs awarded a total of $50,000 in cash and services to help boost their success. A trade show and workshops were also associated with the event. Attendees were invited to a ‘Day of Learning’ at Royal Rhodes to follow up on discussions.

‘Catalyst’ is moving to Nanaimo with the main event to be held on May 20 at the Port Theatre. The Chamber is proud to be an organizing partner. Why is the Chamber involved? Nearly 10% of our membership are non-profit enterprises, and strengthening this sector drives business and builds the GDP for everyone in the community.

We’ll be reaching out to build awareness around opportunities to participate and apply to compete for funding and resources at the climactic Catalyst event. Got ideas on how to help this work? Want more information now on Social Enterprise or the Catalyst events? Call the Chamber of Commerce at 250-756-1191.

Kim Smythe, CEO

February 2015

My Crystal Ball Is Clear On 2015

Since my stellar fortune telling last January, I’ve decided to use my January space to regale you with some forward looking predictions for Nanaimo in 2015.

First off, construction on the Conference Centre hotel by SS Manhao will get underway much to the relief of many. Although it will take some time to unfold, all will declare it a beautiful design and an outstanding addition to our skyline. Sometime during the year, the Hilton project will also get off the ground. How Council deals with the issue of Georgia Park is not open for prediction.

Will we or won’t we see a foot passenger ferry? That’s a tough one, but I’m going to say yes. This is a case of ‘so near yet so far’. If the community’s wishes, hopes and dreams were enough to float a boat, Island Ferry Services would be cruising back and forth already.

Business succession is a major issue as so many local owner/operators approach retirement age. Many Asian investors are seizing upon these opportunities and purchasing some of our Island’s landmark businesses. Their presence is being increasingly felt. The Chamber warmly welcomes these new business leaders.

Our new City Council is getting their engine started and kicked into gear. Getting a machine as big as city hall working smoothly is a challenge and, with so many fresh faces on board, figuring out how to get all cylinders firing doubles that challenge. Congratulations to those who now sit on Council, and to our new Mayor. It’s a huge task they’re taking on for the next four years. Input and support invited, they say.

Nanaimo is successfully attracting a cluster of high tech industry. From software development for industry to gaming, robotics to web-based developments Nanaimo will see continued growth as our community’s geographic location, cost of living, and quality of life all attract the kinds of people making this sector prosper.

Happy New Year to one and all. May your businesses thrive, may you find the right work/life balance, and may we all contribute to an increasingly successful city in 2015.

Kim Smythe, CEO

January 2015

Has It Been A Good Year?

‘Tis the season to be MORE than jolly. ‘Tis the season for our annual Business Achievement Awards. This year we are reflecting the Chamber’s “Successful Cities” program to underscore the importance of pursuing the driving principles of a successful city as we enter the new year.

“Successful Cities” are defined as vibrant, convivial, urban settings that promote balanced cultural, economic, environmental, and social visions. These visions prioritize community well‐being and focus on a high quality of life for their citizens. The Chamber led a public process to define a ‘successful city’ and worked to embed these principles into Nanaimo’s official Corporate Strategic Plan as a way of working towards success as a community.

The Chamber’s 2015 Business Achievement Awards will be oriented to the Successful Cities’ five community pillars: the Natural Environment, Cultural Vitality, Economic Development, Social Considerations, and the Built Environment.

Economic Development recognizes longstanding excellence in one business endeavor, while start-ups are honoured in their own category. Social Considerations honour non-profits and institutions that display excellence in program and service delivery to maximize community impact. The other award under this banner focuses on Social Enterprise – an emerging and important business model where the profits of the business support a social agenda.

Businesses operating in Sustainable Tourism or Environmental Sciences & Technology will be eligible to be nominated in each category under the Natural Environment banner. Cultural Vitality will honour Arts & Culture, and a category simply called “Innovation” encompasses social innovation, creative business practices and technology. The Built Environment addresses Design, Architecture and Engineering as a category and Development & Construction on its own merit.

In addition to these ten awards, special recognition will also be given to “Youth Initiatives” an award that goes to an individual nominee under 25, who, through their spirit, enthusiasm and dedication, has made extraordinary contributions to their community.

Nominations are open to the entire business community including Lantzville south to Cedar and Yellow Point. Finalists will be announced in a casual, upbeat ceremony on February 20 with the Gala Awards Evening on March 20. Find more nomination information online at www.nanaimochamber.bc.ca or call the Chamber to see how you can nominate a worthy candidate. Now, back to sugarplums dancing through your head!

Kim Smythe, CEO

December 2014

Celebrations Coming to an End

It’s been a great year in Nanaimo, in fact it’s one of the best we can remember in our 125 year history. We have marked this momentous occasion a number of ways as we took the year to examine our past and plan our way ahead for the future.

We started by rechristening our annual awards program as Nanaimo’s Business Achievement Awards. Thirteen local private and not-for-profit businesses were chosen from a list of 47 finalists to receive acknowledgement in a variety of categories. (Check for the 2015 call for nominations on our website now.)

We published our annual “Gateway” magazine and, rather than use it to simply promote Chamber programs and services, we developed a narrative entitled “Looking Back, Moving Forward” that featured glimpses into Nanaimo’s past and compared how our lives now compared to then – economically, culturally, and socially..

We used our Annual General Meeting as a time to name six new board members and to ‘Celebrate Success Stories’ with Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, Young Professionals of Nanaimo, Community Futures, Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association and Startup Nanaimo.

In May, we debuted “Wine, Women & Song” an experiential trade show focused on those three topics. It was such a winner, that we immediately scheduled it for 2015. Reserve your space now for this entertaining and innovative event. This preceded our annual June Golf Tournament held at the outstanding Nanaimo Golf Club.

In July we accepted the salute of the venerable Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society. It was a privilege to celebrate the 48th annual ‘running of the tubs’ and it motivated us to become more involved in the future of tubbing in Nanaimo.

We welcomed an outstanding Indian summer with the launch of another event – Nanaimo’s Seafood Chowder Festival with our partners “Lucky’s Liquor Store”. In October, our Business Expo demonstrated an eruption of economic energy at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre and received big high-fives from the business community.

But we didn’t just party the year away. We made new strides forward in economic development with Team Nanaimo, excelled at government advocacy taking a lead role in getting out the vote for the civic election, and created two new series of professional development opportunities – Lightning Talks and Spark Sessions.

All in all, we turned it into a year to truly celebrate success. The Chamber thanks you for everything you did to take part in the celebration, and invite you to be part of the success as we enter 2015 and the next 125 years. Cheers!

Kim Smythe, CEO
December 2014