Reconciliation Day dedicated to “honour survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of Indigenous relations takes place” was the first of what the Chamber hopes will open a new era of inclusive economic opportunity. Reconciliation has a distinct connection to the future of Nanaimo’s business community.
Among demographic metrics measuring growth in entrepreneurialism, Canada’s young Indigenous population stands out. In fact, the term “Indige-preneur” has been coined because these startups are so prolific and display such a high rate of success. Our mid-Island community is no stranger to that and, in fact, all of Vancouver Island can boast a significant amount of Indigenous Economic Development. This, in turn, supports work forces from sectors as varied as forestry, resource development, processing, advanced manufacturing, fisheries, transportation, to hospitality and tourism, the arts, health care and on and on.
In Nanaimo, Petroglyph Development Group is the corporate arm of the Snuneymuxw First Nation. The Chamber is flattered by the opportunity to sit at the table of the new Nanaimo Prosperity Corporation with PDG, and on the new Board of Tourism Nanaimo with Snuneymuxw reps helping guide Nanaimo’s economic future in hospitality. Nanaimo’s new Marriot Hotel, and the recently announced Downtown to Downtown foot passenger ferry both realized their start with an equity investment by Snuneymuxw First Nations.
First Nations art expressed through carving, painting, dance, cultural celebrations, or public displays like the Noel Brown Welcome Pole raised at Maffeo Sutton Park last week are part of the local Indigenous economy. Recent stories about Ay Lelum — the Good House of Design showing its unique Coast Salish designs at world-famous New York Fashion week are a point of pride for the whole community!
The Nanaimo Chamber and Snuneymuxw have agreed on a draft MOU focused on supporting, facilitating and advocating for local Indigenous economic development. We’re also committed to work to meet the goals of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, especially Article #92 and by supporting UNDRIP, which the Nanaimo Chamber committed in writing to last year. This year, your Chamber is dedicated to bringing the joint agreement to a signing ceremony. You’ll all be invited to witness.
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.
Last week, tragic news broke of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. On behalf of the Nanaimo Chamber membership, we express our deepest condolences to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc peoples and all Indigenous peoples who continue to endure the devastating impact and trauma of Canadian colonial actions and policies. To the Indigenous families who have lost a loved one to these residential schools and all of the survivors, you have a strong ally in the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce and we stand with you.
Our business community works on the unceded lands of the Snuneymuxw, Snaw-naw-as and Stz’uminus First Nations. We are grateful for their stewardship of the lands on which we work, live and play. The Nanaimo business community is committed to a future of equality, inclusion and justice for all. We work with the local Indigenous community to understand Truth & Reconciliation and implement those calls to action as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in local economic development. We also contributed to development of a resolution endorsing Bill 41 – Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act that passed unanimously at the BC Chamber Annual Policy Conference last weekend.
The Nanaimo Chamber is at the beginning of a long journey to build trust and achieve true reconciliation, we invite you to witness this.
First Nations and Indigenous-specific support:
National Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Hope for Wellness Hotline: 1-855-242-3310
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
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.
Kim Smythe, President & CEO
P: (250) 756-1191 X. 1
Business Resource & Relocation Guide
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Nanaimo, BC V9S 1H8