Jenny Tyler leading a robotics workshop at the Chamber this summer (Photo credit Creston Chamber of Commerce)

CBT numbers should please Creston businesses

The Columbia Basin Trust's symposium in Kimberley earlier this month was literally out of this world

The Columbia Basin Trust’s symposium in Kimberley earlier this month was literally out of this world, as Canadian astronaut and all-round polymath Chris Hadfield regaled the assembled with stories – and lessons – about travelling into space. One of the biggest take-aways? The importance of thinking big. One of the key upshots? That the Kootenays are poised to grow, enrich, empower and launch residents and businesses into the future.

Statistics never tell the whole story but they can be very useful in getting important conversations started, and for advancing discussions and planning already in play. And for Creston, there’s clear reason for serious optimism.

Growth – CBT analysis suggests the Creston region is poised for upwards of a 10% increase in population in the coming years – potentially doubling the growth expected in neighbouring Trail, Nelson, Kimberley and Cranbrook regions. Sure, that means more traffic and pressure on the medical system but it also means more customers and clients for businesses in the valley. It also means more young families locating here and bringing energy, drive and commerce with them. The Chamber’s response will continue to be aimed at ensuring existing businesses are better represented and served, but while also looking for ways to help raise the profile of the region as an emerging business re/location destination. This is why we value, for example, strengthening our relationships with other Chambers in the region and working with groups like the Economic Action Partnership: provisionally, as we re-organize and plan for the future, our tagline is This is the Chamber Now! but in effect we’re really just making good on the original concept of Growing Together.

Youth engagement – it’s not all roses, of course, and one clearly identified area for focus in Creston is on it’s low score when it comes to the number of students on average completing high school. At around 78%, the score is hardly a disaster but it’s dramatically lower than areas like Revelstoke and Boundary, all things being equal (keeping in mind the ratio of number of students to overall regional population, etc.). The matter is not inconsequential: fewer high school grads suggests a meaningful group of students each year opting to get to work right away – which his fine except that the work will likely be outside the region, thereby taking youth away. The Chamber’s response will be to continue renovating its space for wider community use – including youth activities – and to support programs like the International Student program, Jenny Tyler’s arduino and robotics workshops and Kerry McArthur’s screenwriting and film production classes. These are small, homegrown/regional engagements that can help encourage kids to complete high school and maybe, in Mr Hadfield’s words, “think bigger.”

Seniors: the reality check – one of the more thought-provoking presentations in Kimberley was from the Office of Seniors Advocacy – a nice reality check on assumptions we all make about seniors, starting with what a senior actually is. First of all, trending was verified that seniors are continuing to work well beyond the purely arbitrary 65 years of age (when full pensions and Old Age Security have normally kicked in). Accordingly, the suggestion was a senior today is probably someone well into their 80s. This has a number of implications, including NOT assuming – as I experience myself almost daily as a newly minted 60-year-old – that a) I’m hard of hearing b) have no idea about technology (I was an educator and innovator of computer tech in the early 1980s), and c) that I need hand-puppet instructions to do simply things like swipe my bank card or order a part for a broken window. The old Jedi teaching about your focus determining your reality kinds of resonate here, and if we treat older folks as infirm, it will only accelerate their departure from participation in our business and the business community.

To thrive, businesses need to draw in energy and then return it with interest. It means thinking big – and this month’s very successful Dragon’s Den business competition, not to mention KES’ LEAP program that DD is designed to complement – was proof Creston is quite capable of doing that. But it also means paying attention to the details and ensuring business is embracing of change – in the world, but also in our own ways of doing business. This is the Chamber now, and we’re here to be part of the solutions.

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