The Road So Far – A look back at 2019-2020
When we map out our destination, there are just a couple of certainties: where you start and where you want to arrive. Along the way, there may be detours, construction zones, pit stops and traffic jams, but as long as you know where you’re going, you can always adjust your path to reach that final destination, charting the roadmap for the future.
This year has no doubt proved to be challenging and while the roadblocks seemed daunting at times, they also made us dig deep as a community to find ways to steer our way around the obstacles and find our path forward.
Now more than ever, we have recognized the importance of planning. Whether having pandemic plans, emergency response plans or our strategic plans, these have all guided our organization through the most difficult situations, providing us a roadmap and the ability to adjust and choose different routes when we needed to change course. This is no different for businesses, communities and governments, we need our roadmap and a solid plan in order to reach the destination we desire.
As an organization, we’ve changed our ‘transmission’, transitioned our database, upgraded our dashboard with new technology and taken the opportunity to test drive new platforms and programs, knowing the destination we want to reach.
We’ve also been able to bring along some passengers, accessing student funding and student talent to assist us with implementation of our new communication strategies, assisting us adjust to staff transitions and helping with research to chart our future path forward. Our members have also been along for the ride, trusting us with the roadmap and helping us to reroute.
Through this whole journey, we’ve gained new insights that have helped us enhance our services and drive us forward, forging new partnerships. These partnerships only work to strengthen our service delivery and capitalize on our collective resources together, demonstrating that we are truly stronger together.
While we have always worked alongside our provincial and national organizations in partnership, we accelerated this work to leverage policy and program changes through the Chamber network at both levels of Government. We were able to effect change with tax deadlines and payments, adjust wage subsidy programs and business loan supports, increase access to interest free capital swiftly and adjust rent relief programs.
Local partnerships and communications were also key, as we took part in the local Economic Recovery Task Force, meeting regularly on action items and communications locally to support our business community.
While our partnership work was advanced during the pandemic, we started much of these efforts previously and continue to find ways to partner to help businesses get the support they need.
In late 2019, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Medicine Hat College to advance work integrated learning opportunities. We launched a landing page with a focus on workforce development, connecting employers to a student labour force and assisting students gain the skills they need to succeed.
We encouraged entrepreneurship and business leadership through our support of the Medicine Hat College annual pitch competition, sponsoring our up and coming entrepreneurs in their business journey, while also providing a scholarship to a business student each year to accelerate their pathway into the workforce.
ShopHERE was also launched this fall in partnership with APEX, Community Futures Entre-Corp, Invest Medicine Hat and the City of Medicine Hat in order to assist businesses establish their online presence.
The Business Retention Expansion and Workforce Development project, also resulted in a newly formed Local First YXH partnership with Community Futures, Invest South East Alberta, the Medicine Hat Construction Association, the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group, the City Centre Development Agency, the Medicine Hat Accommodation Association, the Medicine Hat News, Verge Economic Development & Tourism Medicine Hat to promote the benefits of putting local first.
By putting an emphasis on and investing in Local First, we are able to support our local economy and our overall ecosystem, recognizing that our local businesses are very much part of this lifecycle. Our businesses are our friends, neighbours, coaches, service providers and colleagues around town. They are the ones volunteering for local charities, not-for-profits, service clubs and sports teams and giving back to our local community. They contribute to our local charities, and by investing in our local businesses, we in turn support their efforts to give back within our community. We also recognize that without a strong commercial tax base, residents end up having to pay more for the services and benefits we receive as a community.
This is why we also rely on our business community to engage with us and draw our attention to roadblocks and the issues, processes and legislation that need improvement, so that they can continue to thrive and grow.
Through feedback received, we focused our municipal advocacy work on air service, property assessments, purchasing and procurement, consulting on the Municipal Development Plan, red tape reduction and downtown revitalization, along with overall economic development. With the new Municipal Development Plan, our focus over the next few months will be concentrated on the land use bylaw and offsite levies. We’ll also be focusing on industrial zones, economic development plans and incentives, along with the Accelerated Financially Fit initiative, as priorities important to recovery efforts.
We had a very successful provincial policy agenda this past year, driving forward issues that impact our agriculture sector (improved risk management, education, and promoting agri-business), economic development, trade enabling infrastructure, red tape reduction, employment legislation and an efficient and transparent government. In our many meetings with government we use our policy positions to focus on creating an economic environment that will allow our region to reach its full economic potential.
On a federal front, the local Chamber represented our District on the Canadian Chamber Agriculture and Agri-food committee, in addition to participating in the supply chain task force and the tourism and hospitality task force that was created as a result of the pandemic.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce also partnered with the Government of Canada to build the Canadian Business Resilience Network, providing a resource for all businesses with information, tools and resources to help businesses through the pandemic. This effort centralized all the various campaigns and advocacy work related to pandemic supports, recovery and the many program adjustments that were required to fill many of the gaps identified.
From a membership perspective, we had adjusted our investment opportunities to allow our members access to various benefits in order to help them reach their goals and meet their needs no matter where they are in their business journey. As we have conversations with our members about the benefits available to them, we have transitioned more members to our various investments, so that they can get a return that is matched to their business goals. Whether through connections, value added support programs, shop local offers, promotions or investing as an influencer or a community builder, our programs are designed to help each business reach their destination.
We had a number of events over the past year, with our trade shows, lunch and learns, networking, political events, business awards, leadership breakfast, Presidents’ reception, State of the City and training sessions, in addition to a number of grand openings and grand re-openings. We took a bit of a pit stop from our events to refuel and retool, finding new opportunities and developing virtual event delivery solutions to help guide us along the way. This has allowed us to continue delivering town halls, our Leadership Lunch-In, our Virtual Business Awards, along with some new opportunities on the horizon.
Like many businesses, we also had to shift our communication strategies and in just a few months, we expanded our social media presence from Facebook and Twitter, to adding Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. We also went through a brand refresh, a website redesign and shifted to more video content. We also streamlined our focus for our weekly newsletter and created regular updates through our blog to ensure a streamlined method of getting the most crucial information to our business community. If you haven’t already subscribed or followed us on social to stay up to date with the latest business news, you can do so from our website.
If this past year was a road trip, it would see many pit stops, rerouting, shifting gears and detours, while hitting some construction zones and accelerating past many road blocks. Our roadmap became much clearer as an organization and while the path wasn’t always straight, we were focused on our journey to support our business community and bring them along for the ride. Our main goal was to make sure no one gets left behind, equipping them with a roadmap, the vehicle and the tools to be in the driver’s seat to map out their next destination.
While we recognize we’re still in this pandemic and there is a sense of information fatigue, it is still vitally important that we keep gathering information and finding ways to connect with and support our businesses, while also influencing the decisions and policies that have direct impacts on our future economic prosperity.
We were driving at top speed and will continue to work alongside every level of Government on the road to recovery, making sure that each level of Government is aware of gaps, the support required and the opportunities for us to survive and thrive into the future.
While so many things have changed over the last year, our commitment to our community will remain constant. If you need some direction and not sure what your roadmap looks like, we encourage you to connect with us. We are all in this together and we will continue to work together to support our community in order to emerge from this more resilient and more determined to keep Fuelling our Business Community and building our roadmap for the future.