There was a brief period of business as usual for the Swift Current & District Chamber of Commerce in 2020, but it then had to adjust quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic to address the challenges faced by the business community.
Chamber members had an opportunity to reflect on the organization’s response to the pandemic during their annual general meeting, March 24.
As has become the norm for meetings since the pandemic, both the annual general meeting and the media briefing afterwards took place virtually.
“It's been a real privilege to work with you all through a very challenging and different year,” outgoing board chairperson Ken Linsley said during the presentation of his report. “What a year it's been. I came in as chairman on a [Microsoft] Teams meeting a year ago and I'm going out as chairman on a Teams meeting, and never having chaired an in-person meeting over the last year.”
He spoke about the chamber’s four main areas of operation, which are membership, communications, administration, and finance.
The chamber’s annual membership growth target is five to 10 per cent. Their result for the last year was four per cent. Their annual membership retention target is 98 per cent, and their result for the past year was 93 per cent.
The organization had a net gain of 15 new members during the year. It started the year with 389 members and there were 404 members at the end of the year.
“We did get 42 new members, however we did also lose 27 members,” he noted. “Due to the challenging times, we were laser focused on providing value and opportunities to our members. We advocate regularly for the business community with various levels of government.”
The key focus of communication with chamber members during 2020 was to provide them with relevant information about resources available to businesses to deal with the pandemic.
“The ever-changing landscape for our business community necessitated accurate and timely flow of information,” he said.
Chamber CEO Karla Wiens said the organization had to pivot and adapt very quickly to deal with the challenges of 2020, and as a result it was a very busy year for them.
“We worked very closely as a team this year to bounce ideas off each other and learn as we go,” she mentioned. “Everyone had very valuable input, for sure, and we'll keep adapting as things go, that's for certain.”
She felt positive about the 42 new members that joined the chamber during the year in the midst of a very challenging business environment.
“I think it’s a testament to businesses seeing the value that chamber membership does have to offer,” she said. “We did some different things. We weren't able to have our traditional networking events for different purposes, but we did change our game to provide different resources to increase value to our membership.”
She noted it was unfortunate that the chamber lost members, which was a sign of the times and something that will hopefully change.
“We always hate to lose members, because inevitably that means people are moving out of Swift Current and southwest Saskatchewan or they sold to someone else or some are struggling financially,” she said. “We all know that there are people struggling out there and hopefully coming back into 2021 they can rejoin our local business organization and we can provide them value to help going forward.”
Shaun Hanna, the co-owner of Nightjar Diner Co. in Swift Current, is the chairperson of the 2021-22 board of directors. He is cautiously optimistic about the year ahead, partly due to the fact that the chamber still gained new members during the past year.
“We've been incredibly fortunate, being where we're located and sort of distances that we have been from larger centres where we haven't been maybe physically impacted by COVID as much as other communities,” he said. “That also allowed us to be a little bit more robust with our responses and really make sure that we're supporting each other and going to see the other side of this.”
He is excited about his role as board chair and the chamber will continue to give value to members during this uncertain time.
“I think every business that has survived the last year realizes that the way that we did business before is never coming back,” he said. “You have to move forward, and we've actually been able to take away a lot of important lessons and new ways of doing business. … So I think there's some positive benefits out there that we're looking at. It's impossible to see what the next few months would bring, but I think the biggest benefit is that now we have more tools in our utility belt to meet our members where they're at and in new ways. So I think making those connections are key to the chamber and chamber success, and giving value to our members.”
The overview of the chamber’s activities during the past year reflected a renewed emphasis on the importance to support local businesses.
“I believe a strong positive to come from this last year will be that message of thinking local first,” Wiens said. “It's been reinforced and I believe resonates more personally with each and everyone of us.”
The chamber’s activities included a live here, shop here promotion and a Talk Local 10-part online Zoomcast in partnership with the City of Swift Current to highlight different businesses. The chamber also participated in the provincial #TogetherWeStandSK initiative to remind people of different ways to support the local business community.
“And these different ways don't have to involve spending money all the time,” she said. “We recognized it's challenging times. So dine in options, gift cards, take out delivery, but also something to consider that just costs a few minutes is to write a good review or say thank you. Word of mouth goes a long way in promoting our business community and it's important to recognize the hard work and adaptation and also the substantial time and monetary investment our businesses had to invest to stay in business and operational during these times.”
The chamber will soon be launching a new online e-commerce website to assist businesses to promote their products and services. It will be available at www.shopsouthwest.ca
“This is a regional site that will encourage people to think local first and shop online locally,” Wiens explained. “What we're looking to do is provide a platform to help businesses expand their marketing. This will be complimentary. We recognized that we're not wanting to charge people for sure for this next year, perhaps even further. … So we're willing to assist with that and to provide another avenue for them to succeed and sell their products or services.”
The members of the Swift Current & District Chamber of Commerce board of directors and executive for the 2021-22 term were announced during the meeting.
There were three board vacancies and there were six candidates in the board election, which took place in March. The three newly elected directors are Garry Koebel (Sputtergotch Toy Company), Chelsey Stock (Stark & Marsh), and Brent White (Frontier Builders).
The board executive consists of Shaun Hanna (Nightjar Diner Co.) as chairperson, Vim Parmar (Wheatland Machine Shop) as first vice chairperson, Mark Clements (Innovation Credit Union) as second vice chairperson, Chance Chickoski (MNP) as treasurer, and Ken Linsley (Nutrien Ag Solutions) as past chairperson.
The other returning board directors are Kelsey Adam (Kelsey Adam Real Estate P.C.), Brock Friesen (Rittinger's Men's Wear), Lindsay Gerbrandt (Living Sky Casino), Warren Hope (Value Partners Investment Counsel), and Nathan Macdonald (Swift Current Bronco Hockey Club).