The Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new executive director and hopes to find one with the same passion and dedication as the community champion they’re replacing.
After two years at the chamber’s helm, Lara Kemps has announced she’s leaving the position.
“I loved it. I’m going to miss it terribly,” Kemps told the Westerly News. “I just received a job offer that I couldn’t pass up.”
Dian McCreary, past-president and current member of the chamber’s board, said Kemps made a “fantastic” impact during her tenure.
“Lara did a phenomenal job and we will really miss her. We’re sorry to see her go, absolutely. She’s just the best ever. We wish her well in her new endeavours,” McCreary told the Westerly. “She’s got so many talents… She will be very difficult to replace.”
McCreary said the chamber’s board hopes to find a new executive director who will carry on Kemps’s legacy.
“It’s going to be hard, but there’s someone out there I’m sure because the chamber’s such an important asset for our businesses,” she said.
Kemps took the position in 2017 during a significantly transitional time for the chamber, which saw over half of its eight-member board resign in December of 2016 and the future of the organization in question. An email announcing the resignations, sent out by the chamber’s then executive director Melissa Boucha, suggested a membership meeting would be held “to discuss and decide the dissolution of the Chamber of Commerce, or continuation as a viable business organization to the community.”
McCreary said Kemps was integral to the successful revitalization the organization has been celebrated for since late-2016’s uncertainty.
“We all pulled together as a board and Lara was an amazing executive director. We turned the chamber around and set it on its current course, which is to serve our businesses to the very best of our abilities. Lara led that team,” McCreary said. “We couldn’t have done it without her. She made it easy.”
Kemps, a born and raised Ucluetian who was elected to the town’s municipal council in 2019, kept a keen focus on building relationships when she took the role.
“I gave myself two years to be able to make the chamber sustainable and I did that,” she said. “I’ve had a fantastic board and I couldn’t have done it without them to be honest. They let me run with a lot of things and they were very supportive.”
McCreary said Kemps immediately proved a knack for finding relationships, both locally and regionally, as well as funding opportunities, all while displaying a refreshing and appreciated demeanour.
“She’s honest. What you see is what you get,” she said.
She added that she was also impressed with how confidently Kemps has helped local businesses navigate the economic turmoil brought by COVID-19.
“There’s not a lot of cash floating around when you have something like this, but she’s kept things going,” she said.
Kemps said the pandemic, which dismantled the West Coast’s tourism economy throughout spring and much of the summer, helped raise the chamber’s profile and showed how important the organization is.
“That brought a lot of light to the chamber and really strengthened it because, I believe, the chamber was really a lot of help in helping the business community through these trying times,” she said.
She added that local businesses deserve kudos for how they’ve handled the pandemic and said the community’s response and actions throughout have reflected its strength and support for one another.
“We have to be very grateful of all our businesses and very thankful for what our businesses did,” she said, noting the creative ways businesses managed to stay open to serve residents while adhering to social distancing protocols.
“There were some hard decisions to be made for our businesses and for some of them it was a scary time. There’s very slim margins for a lot of these businesses and I believe Ucluelet did a great job in supporting them.”
Kemps said that response was no surprise, given the magnifying glass she’s had on Ucluelet’s reciprocal love for its dynamic local entrepreneurs over the years.
“Everyone is very supportive of each other,” she said. “People move here because of the family-supportive community environment….That’s a huge plus for starting a businesses here. If a new business starts, everyone jumps on board to be able to help and support them and I think that’s really important.”
Kemps said she plans to continue supporting the chamber until a permanent replacement is found and added that the type of person needed to fill her shoes must be community focused, open minded and willing to think outside the box.
“You have to be very creative. The chamber is like any non-profit, you have to be always searching for funding and you have to be very creative and open minded for what that funding looks like and how you could obtain that funding…You have to be a community person and very invested. We need somebody from Ucluelet, really,” she said.
“You have to be very open minded and very business focused. You have to really pivot a lot to the business needs. Chambers can’t rely on membership funding anymore, so you really have to reach out and figure out different ways to show what a chamber does for businesses. You just have to open your mind and think of different ideas.”
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