Planting the Seeds of Change and Cultivating our Future Together
Our Chamber has been established for more than 120 years, stemming from the strong roots established many decades ago. Our legacy has grown from many great leaders who have planted the seeds of change and have cultivated ideas and opportunities to create the business environment we have today.
We continue to grow, evolve, and establish our future from those roots, leaving an ongoing legacy and a strong foundation where our business community can grow and thrive.
While we thought we would be out of the pandemic in 2021, we continued to adapt to changing regulations and information and the growing concerns from our business community. We continually provided advice and recommendations to governments at all levels. We communicated information to our business community and supported our members in whatever way we could. We focused on building community partnerships and planning events within the restrictions while also planning and planting seeds for the future.
When we voiced the concerns for our business community, we focused on cultivating a message focused on the needed supports for business. We held over 25 meetings with government representatives over the year. We followed up with correspondence on the key issues, including business supports, requests for consultations, a proposal to establish a business advisory council. We highlighted the need for better mental health supports and much-needed clarity and certainty for businesses in re-opening plans and restrictive measures.
During the past year, other issues we focused on included a push for a Designated Industrial Zone in our region and clarity around joint use agreements. We asked for solutions for agriculture producers, including better risk management solutions, more irrigation opportunities, ag education in the classrooms and improvements to grazing leases. We corresponded with the provincial Government on the clarity and practicality needed for prompt payment legislation. We also held several meetings with local government representatives on economic development, business support and business incentives needed locally, along with discussions on improvements to city procurement.
Some of the successes included the additional funding for irrigation, a made-in-Alberta brand for agri-food products, an expansion to supports for businesses that included additional funding and the inclusion of newly established businesses. We were also pleased to see the re-opening of wellness services earlier than initially proposed as businesses in this industry along with Chambers across the province pushed for more equitable treatment of businesses. We were pleased to see adjustments we had long been asking for in employment standards and averaging agreements, bringing back the opportunity to have time in lieu/overtime agreements for employees. The Government also addressed some of our concerns with the layering of legislation through many red tape reduction initiatives. Since 2014, we have been asking for the creation of a business incentive program locally, which we saw come to fruition in 2021. We also saw changes to the meat inspection act and the meat inspection regulations, which we have asked for since 2019. We were also pleased to see the recognition of interprovincial trade and professional designations, which has been something the Chamber network across the country has long asked for. The reduction of corporate income tax rates, improvement to registry services, the commitment to twin highway 3 and the move towards creating an integrated child advocacy centre were all welcome announcements as they have all been issues that our Chamber has lobbied for. We also saw the introduction of the Alberta 2030: Building Skills for Jobs plan, and in particular, a push towards more work-integrated learning opportunities for students. We know this will benefit both the student population and our business community.
Our advocacy was further supported through a business research survey we conducted and the resulting economic impact report produced. We contacted over 502 businesses that participated in the study with over 650 hours of research invested. The work resulted in a final report titled ‘Economic Impacts, outcomes and opportunities for Southeast Alberta in a Post Covid Economy.’ The report looked at the research and provided strategies and policies for economic prosperity in the future. Key highlights focused on small business; access to capital and financial support; cost certainty and price stability; privatization; business expansion and diversification; infrastructure; municipal development; downtown development; consumer-focused trends; marketing and social media; technology and innovation; workforce development; along with future prevention protocols, plans and practices when dealing with crisis management, disasters and pandemics. We look forward to using this data to advocate all levels of Government as we move forward.
This is just a shortlist of some of the wins that we have seen over the last year. While we don’t often talk about each of these items publicly, we have the opportunity to highlight these key areas once a year as part of our annual report. We are proud of the hours we can invest on behalf of our business community, and we’re pleased with the positive results that stem from the countless hours of work spent in consultations, government meetings and correspondence that we have with Government behind the scenes.
In other areas of our organization, we focused on supporting our membership, building community partnerships, delivering various events, and enhancing our communications.
We are here to serve and support the needs of every business in our region, investing time and resources to help businesses meet their specific needs. Grand openings, events, advocacy, promotion and community partnerships are the many ways we cultivate those relationships with our members and celebrate their successes, giving a helping hand when needed.
We grew our local offerings to 81 various promotions for businesses and their employees and provided close to 40 programs specifically tailored to business needs. Despite the pandemic, we celebrated nine grand openings or grand re-openings and brought on 58 new members as part of our business network.
While we were unable to host in-person events, that opened the opportunity to cultivate some new initiatives. These included the ShopYXH.ca online marketplace, a push for #LocalFirstYXH, a new partnership with the Bow Island & Burdett Chamber of Commerce and a Work Integrated Learning portal for businesses.
Through a collective group of community partners, we introduced a social media toolkit and brand to help people think local, be local and buy local through our Local First initiative. With the ShopYXH.ca marketplace, we were able to assist 181 businesses to develop a stronger online presence and an aggregated online marketplace that people could go to find local products. Our partnership with the Bow Island & Burdett Chamber allows us to strengthen our collective Chamber network in Southeast Alberta and provide more services and supports to businesses in our region. At the same time, the work-integrated learning platform is helping us to connect students to business and assisting companies to connect with the funding they need to support student wages. With over 40 employers signed up, over 18 students placed and over $135,000 in funding provided, this has been a tremendous success.
Events didn’t quite look the same in 2021. Still, we delivered online content, including a social media conference, our virtual business awards, and 13 other online events, resulting in over 1,000 online participants. Our online events included various meetings and seminars, along with the State of the City address our Leadership Lunch-In and a couple of in-person meet-and-greet sessions with our provincial ministers (when restrictions lifted enough to allow this format).
Our communications efforts grew exponentially during Covid, making us a hub for business information and resources. Our Facebook reach grew to over 40,000 with over 134,000 page views. We’re already seeing half that traffic in just the first quarter of our fiscal year this year and know it will continue to grow as we move forward.
Covid-19 made it a challenging yet impactful year. Many policies and regulations were rapidly adjusted time and time again. Being a liaison for many businesses that needed their opinions voiced was critical during this time. Gathering information and finding solutions to the many challenges was among our list of tasks that we sowed to make changes and cultivate opportunities for the future. We hosted many great events that allowed members to understand and further develop their own thoughts on issues and cultivate seeds of their own in the many connections and discussions they had. Our commitment to helping support businesses and voice solutions and recommendations to the Government is a step forward to continue to Fuel Our Business Community. We are pleased to have also developed a robust strategic plan in 2021 that will continue to push us forward into the future as we continue to serve the needs of every business in our region.