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 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 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

All Candidates Meeting

The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce released its plans for the 2014 Nanaimo All Candidates Forum on November 4 at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre starting at 5 pm in preparation for the November 15th civic election.

“We believe we have a unique approach to getting information from candidates to voters, recognizing that educated voters are the key to a successful government”, said Kim Smythe, Chamber President & Chief Executive Officer. “Because we have a high volume of candidates, we’ve coined the term ‘speed campaigning’ to get as many people through all the candidates they wish to speak with.”

The Mount Benson Ballroom at the VICC will be divided into three sections, one for each of the candidate groups – School District, Council and Mayoral. Tables will be provided for each candidate to provide a focal point for discussions. School District and Council candidates will not speak from a podium. Instead, candidates will be able to present from their table and manage their own audiences engaging with them one on one.

“We will ring a bell every 5-7 minutes to encourage people to move to another candidate’s table. We expect that most people will come with a list of those candidates they’d like to speak to in person, rather than try to research all 59 candidates in one night,” noted Smythe.

School District and Council Candidate rooms will open at 5 pm. The Mayoral candidates’ room opens at 6:30 for one on one discussions. At 7:30 pm, each Mayoral candidate will be invited to speak and take questions for up to six minutes. At 8:00 pm, the format will switch to moderated, pre-screened questions for Mayoral candidates. The event ends at 9:00 pm.

Young Professionals of Nanaimo are partners and will help voters on-site. Hilary Eastmure of Coast 91.7 FM will moderate the Mayoral sessions. Shaw TV will tape these sessions for future broadcast.

Candidates are urged to visit the Chamber website to register for this event. A $25 plus GST table fee is required for cost recovery for every candidate wishing to participate or attend.

Kim Smythe, President and CEO

Posted October 27, 2014

Green Light Given to 59 for Voting Day

Last Friday at 4 pm, the City of Nanaimo closed off nominations for Mayor, City Council and School Board Trustees. A total of 59 have decided to put their best foot forward, or at least whatever foot they have to step into this race with.

Here at the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, we’ve just launched our 2014 Municipal Election Website and Social Media presence within days of nominations closing for the November 15 Civic Election. The Chamber will work hard to create awareness, provide information, and encourage everyone to get out and vote.

Municipal elections offer the best shot at direct democratic action by taxpayers. Every citizen gets a say in who serves as mayor and council until 2018 and it’s often our neighbours and friends who are running. It’s our individual responsibility to choose from among them, and help select who leads us for the next four years. It’s our responsibility as a community organization, to help make this happen.

Our new Chamber website will provide information and resources on candidate and campaign events, informational resources and links to deeper sources of information. The Chamber website will not support any individual candidate but will provide all the links to information that any voter should need.

The Chamber supports platforms, not personalities. We invite candidates to agree with us that proven leadership skills, a clear vision for Nanaimo’s future, support for Nanaimo’s Successful Cities principles, agreement with the Chamber’s published 5-point platform, and clear campaign funding info released upfront are the basis of a credible campaign. If a candidate supports our platform, there’s a good chance we support theirs.

In an effort to educate voters and encourage action at the polls, we will co-operate in promoting other groups’ efforts to mobilize voters. The Chamber will provide non-partisan, non-biased opportunities for candidates with an effort to promote getting out the vote. The 2014 Nanaimo All Candidates Forum on Tuesday, November 4 is part of that strategy.

Candidates are reminded that the Chamber has an ‘open door’ policy for any candidates with inquiries on our position and platforms, those wishing to seek insights, or anyone wanting to help support our vision for the future.

For more information contact the CEO or the General Manager

Kim Smythe, President and CEO

Posted October 14, 2014

Nanaimo’s Vital Signs Checks Local Quality of Life

I attended an event at Island Savings Credit Union that really got my attention. It was the release of Nanaimo’s first ever “Vital Signs” report. Vital Signs is an annual community check-up conducted by community foundations across Canada. It provides a comprehensive, reader-friendly look at how our communities are faring in key quality-of-life areas.

Nanaimo Foundation is one of only 28 such organizations in Canada, out of 190 that exist, to participate in Vital Signs. The Nanaimo Foundation recently announced their new partnership with the United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island (UWCNVI) and the City of Nanaimo in producing this report. Sponsored by Island Savings and supported by Vancouver Island University, this community check-up will identify Nanaimo’s strengths and highlight areas in need of attention.

“This project—tested by community foundations across the country—is an important tool that allows us to engage with the community in order to increase our understanding of Nanaimoʼs issues and trends and what our key priorities should be going forward,” said Tim Mawdsley, Director of Vital Signs with the Nanaimo Foundation.

Information in the report was gathered from a variety of sources, including surveys, roundtables, and census data. The results were compiled and are now presented in a reader-friendly, easy-to-use format to help increase understanding of how the community is doing and where it is heading. It tracks economic and environmental trends, health, arts & culture, socio-economic gaps, learning, safety, transportation, housing, multiculturalism, and a number of other factors that all contribute to quality of life issues. It also ranks Nanaimo in all these areas.

Signy Madden, Executive Director of UWCNVI, said “Partnering on Vital Signs is such a win/win for our donors and the community as a whole. United Way already tracks issues and invests in 33 effective programs in the Central Island this year, but we have wanted to combine our findings with others producing local data. Better data means more informed ways to tackle pressing social issues and to help galvanize community investment.”

The Vital Signs publication is part of a national initiative that was launched in 2006 by the Community Foundations of Canada. This is the first time the Vital Signs research was conducted in Nanaimo, and the report plays a key role in the Nanaimo Foundationʼs strategic plan to increase its community development contributions.

Vital Signs information is available through

Kim Smythe, President and CEO

Posted October 14, 2014

LNG for Vancouver Island

LNG -or Liquified Natural Gas – offers economic opportunities for businesses on Vancouver Island and throughout British Columbia. Most of the attention on this so-called panacea for our economic future has been focused on northern BC and the ports that will bid adieu to tankers full of it bound for demanding customers in Asia.

It is anticipated that LNG will create up to $1 trillion in economic activity and as many as 100,000 jobs in British Columbia over the next 30 years. The province is working to ensure the whole business community can participate in the opportunities LNG offers. The BC Jobs Plan includes significant investments and prosperity promises through LNG exports.

Many in our neck of the woods feel like we’re on the sidelines here. While it will be good for general revenue in the tax coffers, and it is likely to offer employment to everyone willing to leave the Island for points north, is there anything else that might slide off the side of the plate for us in Nanaimo?

Turns out the answer is yes. Two big ideas are being floated. Nanaimo has one of the finest deep sea ports on Canada’s west coast. And it has some very accessible flat land beside it. Both of these items are missing up and down the coastline. So it makes sense that all of the massive parts of the refineries that need to come from afar can be offloaded in Nanaimo for assembly by skilled trades people and then barged right to their industrial home sites near Kitimat and Prince Rupert. Voila – LNG refinery mecanno style.

Item #2: There are not enough homes, nor enough infrastructure, to house the people it will take to build the refineries in these resource towns. Building off-site ‘home bases’ for the thousands working on these projects creates opportunities again for Nanaimo. We already handle a significant number of Island residents taking charters and regularly scheduled flights to resource centres. We have the land, the infrastructure and the skills to build neighbourhoods to house them and grow a great city with excellent quality of life attributes for these newcomers.

The Chamber of Commerce is working with its partners as part of ‘Team Nanaimo’ to help make the business case for Nanaimo to share in the future of LNG. Stay tuned, we’ll be talking to the community as we move along and make progress for the entire community.

Posted October 14, 2014