B.C. Chamber President and CEO, Val Litwin, spoke at the Fernie Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting on Thursday, April 20. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Fernie Chamber brings special guest for AGM

On Thursday, April 20, the Fernie Chamber of Commerce held their annual general meeting.

The meeting began with a coffee reception and breakfast buffet, followed by an introduction by Mayor Giuliano.

Board President Sheila Byers then made a call to order. The agenda was then approved, as well as the 2016 minutes, annual report and financial report.

Statistics show that highway visitors to Fernie increased by 34.1 per cent from 2015, sitting at 14,818. There were 12,229 downtown visitors, an 18.3 per cent decrease from the 2015 fiscal year.

Several community events were highlighted, including the Summer Socials, where 28 volunteers donated over 120 hours of their time. The visit of The Cave Singers was also highlighted, as they brought over 500 people out to the free concert. 2017 will bring with it some changes to the Wednesday Night Concert Series. They will now fall under the umbrella of The Arts Station.

The 40th anniversary of Griz Days was a massive success, highlighted by a free Yukon Blonde concert in Station Square and a visit from Canadian TV star, Rick Mercer. Here, 60 volunteers donated over 185 hours.

Next came the appointment of the accounting firm for 2017. After this, the appointment of elections officer was announced. The 2017/18 board of Directors were then introduced. Alicia Clarke, Graeme Nunn, Anita Palmer, Martin Brock, Jamie Jensen and Andre Labine were accepted to the 2017 board of directors for the Fernie Chamber of Commerce.

After the election process took place, everyone welcomed guest speaker, Val Litwin, BC Chamber President and CEO.

Aside from his position as President and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, he has also served as CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce where, under his leadership, the Chamber achieved on the fastest growing membership of 2015. He has obtained an impressive resume as a successful entrepreneur. Litwin co-founded a first-to-market concept, Blo Blow Dry Bar, which has expanded to over 60 worldwide locations.

Litwin started off by stating how Whistler has an obsession with excellence, which he believes Fernie shares.

He spoke to the importance of good governance, comprehensive business strategies, as well as the benefits of working together. He also spoke to the future of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and their direction as leaders as well as servants to the province.

“We don’t take lightly the fact that we have regional chambers of commerce, like Fernie,” said Litwin. “As members of the B.C. Chamber, we often talk about the power and strength of the network.”

Litwin then spoke to some of the conversations happening around the province, including indigenous communities, with a notion that the chambers around the province can become more involved, and that they can do better. Litwin highlighted that more and more indigenous community members are sitting on chamber boards. He finds this encouraging.

“Through the lens of economic development, so much of the opportunity in B.C. is about partnering and working with First Nations,” said Litwin.

The top five areas of growth in the province is first of all, tourism, followed by clean energy tech, health services, international trade and telecommunications.

“Fernie beer, when are we going to get that into China?” inquired Litwin, highlighting the potential for growth in international trade.

He believes the province has a great opportunity to get their resources onto the global market in a responsible, and environmentally friendly way.

Litwin then touched on teamwork, and how he hopes chambers across the province will be the ‘Tough Mudder’ of the business world. In this endurance race, crossing the finish line with your team is of the utmost importance.

He also highlighted the unspoken separation between the urban communities and the rural ones, and how he would like to see more unification between the ‘250’s’ and the ‘604’s’ (area codes).

After his speech, a review of the year was made. The largest challenges for business owners in Fernie as identified in the report, came in the form of a suitable place to expand or grow, as well as labour, and housing.

“We are working closely with the City of Fernie and business owners to overcome these challenges,” said Board President Sheila Byers.

There was a seven per cent growth in membership over the past year. The chamber welcomed 46 new members, acclaimed 15 media mentions, and held seven education and info sessions.

Several articles by The Free Press were highlighted which shed light on short-term rentals and business survey results.

The Ambassador Program was launched in 2016, focusing on training people in the resort and hospitality sectors and tying into visitor services.

“Looking ahead at 2017, we will continue to focus on our mission statement, which is to strengthen commerce in Fernie,” said Byers.

On Thursday, the Fernie Chamber of Commerce also announced their plan to launch a feasibility study for the creation of a Coworking and Business Acceleration Centre in the City of Fernie.

Their purpose is to create a work environment for the 200+ Fernie residents who currently work for home, as well as entrepreneurs who own a secondary home in the community. This will give those who attend an opportunity to collaborate and create ideas to accelerate and grow their businesses.

Over the next three weeks, Capasiti Consulting Inc. will connect with local small business owners, freelance workers, remote workers, community-based organizations and property owners to gather data on space requirements and availability.

“For communities like the City of Fernie, where much of the economic activity is driven by small business and community-based organizations, these types of facilities can act as a community hub and play an important role in economic development, through diversification and capacity building,” said Patty Vadnais, Executive Director, Fernie Chamber of Commerce. This survey closes May 5, and the community is encouraged to add their voice by completing the online survey at Ferniechamber.com.