The Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce’s Ursula Banke, Dian McCreary, Lara Kemps and Suzanne Ryles are excited to get started on a new Business and Employment Retention and Expansion Program. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Ucluelet chamber excited about economic development

"I'm excited to showcase UBERE. It couldn't have come at a better time."

The Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce has shed the weight of visitor services and is ready to focus on sustainable economic development.

“Tourism is an interest of the Ucluelet Chamber, however economic development is our focus,” said chamber board-member Ursula Banke.

Visitor services, along with the management of Ucluelet’s Visitor Centre at the Tofino-Ucluelet Junction, moved from the chamber’s responsbilities to Tourism Ucluelet last year and that’s freed up the chamber’s board to pursue other initiatives.

The chamber recently announced the launch of a Ucluelet Business and Employment Retention and Expansion Program, dubbed UBERE, in response to Ucluelet’s Economic Development Strategy created in 2012 and updated in July, according to Banke.

She said the roughly $160,000 UBERE program is being funded, in part, through about $100,000 from the BC Rural Dividend Fund, $30,000 from the District of Ucluelet and $12,000 from the Island Coastal Economic Trust.

It is expected to be implemented immediately and run for 12 months.

The program’s goals will include: identifying resources necessary to support existing businesses, determining existing business health, investigating barriers and challenges facing local businesses and sniffing out incoming issues to create solutions through proactive intervention, according to Banke.

She added the program will also aim to “establish interactive communications with the business community and its leaders to help improve business investment.”

A project manager and program continuity coordinator will be hired in the coming weeks to oversee UBERE’s operations and the chamber is putting together an UBER team to help steer the program’s direction. Anyone interested in adding their input is encouraged to reach out to the chamber at 250-726-4641 or chamberoffice@uclueletinfo.com. A public information session is scheduled for Nov. 14 at the UCC.

Chamber president Dian McCreary said she hopes the UBERE program will show local business owners the value of a chamber membership.

Businesses have been slow to join our chamber because they can’t see the benefit of what we’re doing for them. The perception is that we’re all about tourism,” she said. “Through all of this, we hope to increase membership and interest in the chamber because they will see the fruits of what we’re trying to do.”

Banke added that a strong and unified business voice is an invaluable lobbying tool.

“You need someone to represent business interests and liaise with government officials and outside entities, so that you can communicate the issues and concerns of the local business people,” she said.

The chamber kicked off a membership drive this week and Office Manager Lara Kemps is going door-to-door to meet with business owners and bring them up to speed on the chamber’s efforts. Kemps will also be distributing a survey related to UBERE that will ask questions around short-term and long-term goals as well as plans for retention, expansion and succession.

“I’m excited to showcase UBERE. It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Kemps said.

The chamber is offering a 10 per cent early-bird discount on memberships until Dec. 15.

“Our goal is to increase membership because, with stronger membership, we can be more effective and a stronger voice,” McCreary said.

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