In light of the snap election call, the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce announced its one-night All Candidates Forum on September 15. The Chamber has been organizing such presentations over the years, and they’ve become a mainstay on the periodic election scene locally.

 

“These are special times, so we’ve planned a hybrid event – a mix of a limited live audience and live-streaming coming from the Shaw Auditorium at Vancouver Island Conference Centre,” according to Kim Smythe of the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce. “We’ll invite questions in advance, and from the audience on-site, just as we usually do. We’re hoping all parties will accept our invitation and present their candidates for consideration in this forum. It’s really timed so that voters can use the event to help them make up their minds in the last week after a month of election promises.”

 

Information and details on registration for the live event, and access to the virtual event, will be posted on the Chamber’s website, social media channels and in local media.

With opportunities to open up small public gatherings again, Downtown Nanaimo is adding a ‘Corner Concert’ series to entertain lunch crowds and passersby this summer.

Solos and duos will take over downtown corners near patios adding a new ‘live music’ vibe to downtown, celebrating a return to a more normal social setting with the pandemic increasingly fading from everyday life and a new hospitality season upon us. “It’s been a very challenging couple of years for downtown businesses – retailers, restauranteurs, tourism operators have all struggled to survive.” said Kim Smythe, on behalf of the Downtown Nanaimo Business Association.

According to Smythe, a number of initiatives are underway to attract and welcome Nanaimo residents and visitors back downtown after the announcement of restriction relaxations. In addition to advertising in publications with Island-wide and BC Ferries distribution, Downtown Nanaimo is running a local social media photo promotion all summer, with $2,000 in prizing shared among eligible participant winners. www.downtownnanaimo.ca

Corner Concerts will connect people to the gathering-spots that are coming alive downtown again. Diana Krall Plaza, Museum Way, and National Land Building steps are going to be the most popular corners to serve as Corner Concert venues. Entertainment takes place 11:30 am – 1:30 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, & Sundays throughout the summer with a variety of performers.

Over the past 15 months, Vancouver Island has battled COVID-19 and felt the impact of the virus on our mental health, our economic vitality and on our community spirit.

British Columbia has fared well compared with many other jurisdictions across the world, but still this battle has been exhausting and frustrating. We are all tired.

With a few exceptions, the provincial strategy has treated all of B.C. the same when it comes to implementing restrictions, despite the rate of outbreaks and case numbers being drastically different across health authority jurisdictions.

Vancouver Island continues to be the bright spot in terms of provincial COVID numbers. Since Oct. 12, 2020 (before the rigid restrictions of November), we represented 3.7 per cent of total new cases.

Since April 6, when the latest additional restrictions or “circuit breaker” restrictions were imposed, including the strict travel restrictions, Vancouver Island represents only 3.8 per cent of new cases.

This is not a time to play the “blame game.” But it is a time to consider that data and demonstrate, using that evidence, that Vancouver Islanders are not a threat to Vancouver Islanders.

Despite our low case count and that over half the Island population have had at least one dose of vaccine, our families, friends, and businesses continue to pay the same price as those on the mainland.

With May 25 looming, and the possibility of either the loosening of restrictions, or extending them, it is time for the provincial government to consider either a regional approach or a more comprehensive explanation of the current restriction criteria.

Public health is a vital component of governmental decision-making. The economy, our environment, our transportation network, education and public health all come under the responsibility of the provincial government.

Data and evidence suggest that we on the Island have contained the virus. Given the evidence, can we not look to scale back our COVID rules to Phase 3, where we were last summer?

With the low level of transmission on the Island, surely someone from Nanaimo can come to Victoria, shop and dine inside a restaurant with minimal risk? Surely someone in Comox could take a day trip to Campbell River and do the same?

A regionally focused restriction plan would allow our beleaguered hospitality sector, including hotels, restaurants, retailers, and tour operators to have a semblance of a summer season.

Intra-Island tourism would keep some people employed, keep some businesses operating, and would give us all hope. The same way it did last summer.

These are difficult questions to be sure. Easing inter-Island travel after May 25, or having some explanation as to why that’s not possible — despite what the data seem to be saying — would give us all peace of mind.

It would give our businesses some certainty, and it will give our employees and residents continued faith in the importance of evidence in public policy making.

This commentary is supported by the following:

Bill Lewis, Greater Victoria Hotels Association

Kathy Whitcher, Urban Development Insitute, Pacific Region

Julie Lawlor, WestShore Chamber of Commerce
Britt Santowski, Sooke Chamber of Commerce

Al Smith, Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce

Kim Smythe, Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce

Kim Burdon, Parksville-Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce

Diane Hawkins, Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce

Mary Ruth Snyder, Campbell River and District Chamber of Commerce

Bill Collette, Port Alberni Chamber of Commerce

Karl Ablack, Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce

Jan Dart, Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce

Laurie Filgiano, Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce

Katherine Worsley, Lake Cowichan District Chamber of Commerce

Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce; Paul Nursey is CEO of Destination Greater Victoria; and Jeff Bray is executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

While I have some remarks published in the report you’ve all received, I wanted to depart from that and use my minute or two here to comment on some of the details of the year 2020. Starting March 13 last year, our world went into a spin nobody could have forecasted. At the Chamber, we were busy planning our 50 plus events for the year – from networking activities, monthly luncheons, ceo breakfasts, and the biggies like Business Expo, Business Awards, and of course the Commercial Street Night Market. Instead, we had two breakfasts and one luncheon done by that time. Fortunately, we were given a brief reprieve in the summer and received the PHO’s blessing to hold our golf tournament – much to the delight, no – glee — of our 80 golfers. Staff mentioned it was like watching kids AT the first snowfall of the year!

 

We shifted gears upon discovering that what people wanted most was information and knowledge which saw us enter into “uber communications” mode. We produced 13 weekly webinars from March to June interviewing the people who mattered the most – government & community leaders, and the folks who would help businesses the most in securing support funding to help them survive what we didn’t know enough about to know what was coming next. We increased our NewsLine enews from a single issue with five stories a week to a daily issue with twenty-five stories a week and our readership went up 5,000%. We pulled off a virtual Business Awards show with the help of Steve Patterson of CBC’s “The Debaters”. Our workload in government advocacy went sky high as we collaborated with the BC Chamber and provincial ministries to ensure business had the best chance to survive and thrive. And we ended the year on a positive note financially.

 

Thanks to Chamber staff who really moved fluidly amidst all the changes we needed to make, to our contractors who did the same, to volunteers who persevered, to our colleagues and partners in business and government. Especially to civic leaders in governance and the bureaucracy as we worked together on the Health and Housing Task Force, Economic Development Task Force, the reformation of Tourism Nanaimo and development of a new BIA.

 

Among the changes we went through, perhaps the most significant was the board’s decision to look towards the future and our needs for space which resulted in the sale of our building in early 2021 with the intent to purchase property in the city center with proceeds from the sale and make an equity investment in downtown revitalization. While the sale has been completed, the Chamber will not be moving until we’ve found the best space possible that will allow the Chamber to continue serving its members while also paying respect to the membership and past board members and leaders who created the legacy we enjoy now.

 

Kim Smythe, President & CEO

ceo@nanaimochamber.bc.ca

Chamber Executives from around BC met on Tuesday in our bi-weekly Chamber Coffee Chat. Of course, the main topic of conversation was the announcement by the Premier around new restrictions and closures – restaurants and pubs being the most controversial and challenging for all communities. We determined that we needed to speak on behalf of the industry and the tens of thousands of workers impacted so suddenly and drastically by the province’s announcements providing about eight hours of notice of the 100% restriction on indoor dining.

 

The frustration of business owners and operators could be felt in one of our member’s voices as he described that Monday morning he had placed an order for $11,000 for wine necessary to satisfy those dining out for Easter. The week previous he had place substantial orders for deliveries of fresh foods for later this week to hold him over the long weekend. I’m sure this story was repeated thousands of times by restauranteurs over the past couple of days. Unfortunately for most in BC, patios are not an alternative at this time of year. In Nanaimo, the Fire Department refused to permit propane powered heaters on any patio with a covering which would have been the only alternative during the winter months.

 

The repeated and sudden nature of closures and restrictions that provide no notice for the industry to adjust staffing, provision procurement, and credit/cash flow arrangements. The industry is operating in very stressful times since allowed to re-open to reduced capacities late last spring. In our community, a number have closed their doors permanently. I’m sure Chambers across BC would say the same things about their communities.

 

We concluded through this discussion that three things should be considered going forward, and we hope you’ll share this with government to advocate for more consideration for the industry:

  • Businesses impacted (restaurants and pubs) need to be provided with guidance on how to seek support and funding to ensure they don’t lose their businesses. There must be recognition of the sudden impact on an industry already struggling under difficult conditions. Perhaps a special fund separate and distinct from the existing BC Recovery Plan funding.
  • There needs to be more transparency and clarity around the potential for changing conditions on businesses, industries and sectors that are in fragile or threatened territory already. Lack of communication around the decision-making process is resulting in mistrust in the process. We need more clarity, we need to know why, and we need to know how we can properly address the areas of concern for our region. (IE – is it in fact restaurants in all of BC where we are seeing the spike?)
  • Many Chambers would encourage reconsideration of a strategic, territorial approach when considering industry-wide closures. On Vancouver Island, our case count is fortunately very low and the chances of anybody ‘region-hopping’ for the sake of a dinner out would be extremely unlikely. Similar situations exist in the North and the Kootenays among other regions.

 

With the number of people living paycheque to paycheque or tipjar to tipjar, this situation is close to overwhelming for local economies. We can only hope that three weeks really does end up being three weeks!

 

For inquiries, reach out to:

Kim Smythe, President & CEO

ceo@nanaimochamber.bc.ca

 

In 2017 the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association suspended operations and businesses downtown quickly discovered the difference between having a group functioning to support business success and having nobody leading the way.

Since then, different individuals, merchant groups, and the Chamber of Commerce have been contributing their energy to advocate for downtown businesses creating events and promotions to build traffic downtown. Although helpful, the lack of an overall plan, consistency of effort, and focused energy does not serve the needs of downtown businesses well enough.

In 2019, the Chamber began working with merchants to organize a new non-profit society made up of downtown business operators and property owners. That status was granted by the Province in May of 2020 and the organization has applied to the city for BIA status.

The new BIA will:

  • Become the dedicated, independent voice of downtown speaking through a Board of Directors elected at a grass roots level.
  • Work with existing, neighbouring downtown business associations and organizations in partnerships for the common good.
  • Seek funding in addition to the money raised from the BIA levy through partnerships, sponsorships and cooperative campaigns. The BIA will NOT be seeking a partnership with the city to match the levy with taxpayer’s funds.
  • Work with specialists and contractors to undertake promotional programming, events, community development and safety and security.

Now it’s up to downtown property owners to decide if the BIA will go ahead. They have the choice of supporting a small levy on their properties to financially support the BIA. Keeping the number of participants high, keeps the individual levy low. Funds collected would be reinvested wholly in improving the chances of success for downtown businesses. Programming and planning for downtown would focus on attracting shoppers and visitors by providing attractions and events to animate downtown streets. Property owners primarily download the additional costs of the levy onto their tenants who benefit from increased traffic and sales, and an improved downtown environment.

Downtown’s challenges won’t be resolved without the commitment of this grassroots organization, and certainly not without the resources a BIA can put in the hands of this new independent group looking out for downtown. Offer your encouragement to downtown merchants by supporting a new BIA for downtown Nanaimo and, if you’re a downtown property owner, support a brighter future for downtown by supporting a new BIA.

2021 opened up NOT with a clean slate, but with a continuing murky slate. The pandemic is a reality impacting everybody, including all local businesses, for nearly a year now. It’s changed all of our daily lives and certainly turned the Chamber’s world upside down.

 

The Chamber was an organization that brought people together 40-50 times a year knitting the business community’s social network. Last March we quickly turned our attention to the importance of delivering vital information to help guide businesses to government aid and support and virtual programs providing insight, education, and inspiration. We’ve been doing so much more behind the scenes, we decided on this report to shine a light on this work for you.

 

In January, the Chamber agreed to participate in the rebuilding Tourism Nanaimo. Local stakeholders – Nanaimo Chamber, Nanaimo Hospitality Association, Snuneymuxw, Petroglyph Developments, VICC, and Nanaimo Port Authority – are among those being tasked to create a new community-based model. The Chamber looks forward to developing an organization that will help our local community rebound from the cataclysmic impact Covid has had on travel, tourism and hospitality.

 

We also helped lead other Island Chambers in a letter writing campaign to support a local business with touch points in many Island communities — Wilson’s Transportation’s Tofino Bus. The recent suspension of this business has implications beyond tourism — Tofino Bus was the only safe transportation option for many First Nations communities in the mid-Island region – 21 communities to be precise. This prompted the Nanaimo Chamber to engage with the Regional District to encourage an examination of how we can create safe, inexpensive inter-regional travel in the future.

 

Nanaimo led Chamber leaders across BC in support of Mayor Krog and the UBCM ‘big city mayors’ consortium in the province to acknowledge the need for a dramatic shift in thinking to deal with the three crises we’re staring down – affordable housing, addiction, and homelessness. We also requested the Province look into its century-old municipal charter to open the ability for municipalities to look beyond property taxes and utilities as their main sources of revenue while senior governments continue to download onto local taxpayers.

 

In January, the Chamber’s role on “Mayor & Council’s Task Forces on Health & Housing” and a task force on “Economic Development” ended with major reports to Council. The reports and attendant action plans have been approved by Council. This concludes over twelve months of cooperative work by community leaders who gave a tremendous amount of themselves during difficult times and conditions. The Chamber is proud of the outcome, especially the Nanaimo Prosperity Agency – a new external economic development agency reporting to the City and governed by community stakeholders.

 

The Chamber approached City Council February 17 seeking a staff report on the impact of freezing commercial tax rate increases this year due to Covid’s impact on small business locally. The motion passed. At the very least, we’ve drawn attention to the pandemic’s impact on local business, we will benefit from the report from the City finance department, and we will have started the discussion on the future of Nanaimo’s tax structure and its impact on business. We’ll keep reporting back on our further progress to relieve the tax burden on the community.

 

The Chamber has planned Virtual Events this year replacing our ‘live’ events with new experiences. And it’s not just “Chamber on Zoom”. Try joining us remotely…  we’re making this video-conferencing transition interesting and fun while constantly improving our technology and building solid content!!

 

And please reach out to agree or disagree with me at any time.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Kim Smythe, President & CEO

P: (250) 756-1191 X. 1

ceo@nanaimochamber.bc.ca

Minute Men Moving & Storage Facility Upgrade

You may have heard that Minute Men Moving & Storage is expanding their facilities.  They are currently in the process of building a new warehouse, which is expected to be finished by April 2020.

In building the new warehouse Minute Men is helping create multiple jobs in Nanaimo throughout the entire planning and construction phase of the project.  With the expanded facilities Minute Men will also have the chance to grow their own staff including their professional moving crews and their office staff.

Their new warehouse will be the newest and largest state of the art facility of its type on Vancouver Island, which is an exciting addition to Nanaimo.  With Nanaimo being centrally located, it allows Minute Men’s products and services to be offered throughout Vancouver Island, thus helping drive the Nanaimo economy.

With the building of the new warehouse comes some great enhancements to their business.  In the past, they have stuck mostly with residential moving and storage, but with the growth they will be able to facilitate commercial storage and warehousing.  Their use of container storage can be increased since the new facility is planned to be much larger than their current one.  Minute Men Moving and Storage will also be a fully functioning Customs Bonded warehouse facility.  This will be the only one in the mid island.

The building of a larger warehouse is not the only plan on the horizon for Minute Men Moving and Storage.  Their goal is to continue the expansion of their current residential professional moving and storage services, and grow a moving, storage, and warehousing solution to the commercial sector.

Click here to download the PDF! 

Report to Council October 28. 2019

Findings & Recommendation:

Impact on business and residents of homelessness and social disorder

Click here to download the full report.