The South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce is concentrating on a brighter outlook for 2012 – including an anticipated budget surplus of $35,000 for this fiscal year.
That’s the message from chamber president Gary Hollick and Cliff Annable – who was formally recognized as the organization’s interim executive director at the Jan. 24 chamber luncheon – who said the chamber’s strategic planning meeting the previous weekend helped refocus the organization on complementary strengths and skills.
“We’re there to serve the business community,” said Annable, a former White Rock councillor is volunteering his services to the group for a nominal $1-per-year fee.
“I’ve been in business for 40 years and I want the chamber to be the best it can be. We have an awesome staff working with us who are very knowledgeable. I’m really excited about this – it’s got my adrenalin going.”
“Cliff knows everybody in town on a first-name basis,” Hollick said, adding his help will be important in helping the chamber evolve in key areas of membership, benefits, networking and administration.
It’s no secret the chamber has had its challenges in recent years, Hollick acknowleged.
“If we were to look back, there were lots of rumblings, rumours and gossip about financial decisions – a lot of infighting,” Hollick said.
“What happened is that in 2008 the economy did a flip, and a lot of the board of directors were running the chamber off the end of their desks – they felt like they should be spending more time taking care of their own businesses.”
Helping forge the way ahead, Hollick said, is recognition that a chamber of commerce is a group of people who want to be represented “in a way that helps them do business but is also about building a better community.”
“It’s not that much different from a trade union in a lot of ways,” he said. “Ultimately our employers are the three levels of government, including the City of Surrey and the City of White Rock. But the most important thing to us is our members – that’s who our customers are.”
Hollick – a former president of the Surrey Board of Trade and former publisher of the Surrey Now newspaper – said the goal this year is to increase membership by 10 per cent. “If you can’t do that, there’s something fundamentally wrong with your business,” he said. “If a business – year after year – has no growth and the same sales, at the end you don’t have a very healthy business.”
At the same time, he said, there has to be recognition there is a lot more competition for membership from other groups.
“The White Rock BIA, Tourism White Rock, the Surrey Board of Trade – they’re all fishing in the same pond,” he said.
“There have to be more benefits and the chamber has to be more relevant to the members. People do business with people they know and trust.”
Rather than being an organization that simply reacts to individual issues as they occur, Hollick said, the chamber intends to take a more proactive stance as advocate for a series of cornerstone elements that “create a community people want to be part of” – including local improvements in education, transportation, health care and job creation.
“When you get married and get a job, you take ownership of the community, but when your kids get old enough, if there is not continuing education available to them, they’ll go somewhere else,” Hollick said. “It’s important to keep families together.”
When SFU’s Surrey campus opened up, he noted, “we were guaranteed 5,000 seats – but we’ve been funded for half of that.” He added the chamber wants to work with both SFU and Kwantlen Polytechnic University to help the institutions achieve their goals.
Hollick said the chamber will also be speaking up on inequities in the transportation system such as the lack of bus service in White Rock and South Surrey compared with Vancouver.
“Behind Campbell Heights is the largest chunk of industrial land in the Lower Mainland, but we don’t have a bus system going in there.”
And while Hollick termed Peace Arch Hospital “world class,” the aging population in the area demands continuing vigilance to see health-care standards maintained.