By Matthew Liebenberg
A solid financial position and growing membership were some of the highlights reported during the Swift Current & District Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting at the Living Sky Casino event centre, March 23.
The 2022 board chair Vim Parmar presented his report to the meeting. He mentioned that chamber membership increased nearly six per cent from 388 in 2021 to 411 members currently.
“We are now a chamber where people come to us, knocking on our door, saying we want to be a member of the chamber, which is kind of a feather in our hat,” he said. “So that tells us that we’re doing positive steps within our chamber that makes businesses and individuals come to us and want to be a part of our team.”
He noted the chamber is in a very healthy position and the organization continues to exercise fiscal responsibility.
He felt the chamber was able to provide excellent support and programming to members during the unstable times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He referred to the work done by the chamber board and staff in February 2022 to develop a new strategic plan. It was an intensive process that resulted in the creation of four strategic priorities – membership value, communications, networking/connections, and advocacy.
This plan will guide the operations of the chamber for several years and it will assist the organization to achieve the mission of helping businesses to thrive.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “We all live in Swift Current, we want to raise families here and do business here. So for us to make this happen and make it positive, we want to see our community thrive.”
Chelsey Stock presented the treasurer’s report during the meeting. She noted the organization was able to host in-person events during 2022.
“These events were generously sponsored and well-attended by the community, and are an important source of funding for the operation of the chamber,” she said.
She referred to the balance sheet in the financial statements, which indicated the cash and short-term investments have remained steady during the past two years at around $260,000. This enabled the chamber to spend funds on activities that benefitted the membership during 2022, for example complementary membership events and mental health workshops. They also invested in the future of the chamber through their strategic planning process. For 2023 they are budgeting to break even again on operations.
Chamber CEO Karla Wiens provided an overview of the past year during the presentation of her report.
“As always, our number one priority is to provide value to our membership,” she said.
She added that the chamber is in the business of connecting people through networking events, educational and professional development opportunities, and advocacy.
“That’s what we’re all about, forming relationships,” she said.
Wiens said after the annual general meeting during a media interview the chamber was very pleased to get back to in-person events in 2022. The pandemic presented a real challenge to the business community, but she felt the entrepreneurial spirit in the region is alive and well. “We have lots of new entrepreneurs starting businesses,” she said. “Some may have retired earlier due to COVID or closed for various reasons, but we have a next generation or a new generation of business owners up and coming to provide all the residents of southwest Saskatchewan with what we want to live.”
The chamber can assist businesses to achieve their goals and connect with others in the business community.
“We provide opportunities for people to connect with referral sources, with new employees, with colleagues,” she said. “Starting a business, it’s very important to have those connections in our community for various resources, advice, and just to get the word out there.”
She will usually not go into all the details of the services and benefits of chamber membership when she talks to a member. Instead, she will focus on their direct need.
“I usually ask them what do you need and we try to provide direction on where the best avenue is to help them,” she said.
The challenge for the chamber is to provide value to a membership base that comes from diverse industries.
“So we’ll provide as many resources as we can,” she said. “We really value the feedback from our members, because we might think we know what’s important, but we want to hear it from our membership and try to provide opportunities, whether that’s educational resources or direction for various different advice in various fields. We definitely want to hear from our membership, and we will do our best to provide them some value.”
Mark Clements is leading the chamber team in 2023 as the new board chairperson. He is serving his third term on the board and he feels it is a relevant organization.
“I think it brings a great deal of value to the business community,” he said. “It provides a channel to connect businesses, to help businesses, to provide information and to provide a resource. It’s an avenue to really bring the business community together and that’s why I believe in it and why I’ve really supported it over the last number of years.”
His priority as board chairperson will be to build on the chamber’s momentum and to interact with other organizations, including other chambers of commerce, economic development groups and town councils, to benefit the entire southwest community.
The Chamber board executive members for the 2023 term are: Mark Clements (chairperson, Innovation Credit Union), Warren Hope (1st vice chairperson, Value Partners Investment Counsel), Chelsey Stock (treasurer, Stark & Marsh CPA LLP), Vim Parmar (past chairperson, Wheatland Machine Shop/Beachcomber).
The board directors are: Bryce Martin (Great Plains College), Ashley Peterson (Living Sky Casino), Nathan MacDonald (Swift Current Broncos), Lindsay Gerbrandt (The Pinery Tree Farm), Garry Koebel (The Sputtergotch Toy Co.), Doug Evjen (SaskTel), Alicia Laird (MNP), Logan Spearing (Kanuka Thuringer), Patrick Shields (Footworks Advanced Foot Care).
The appointed board representatives are Pat Friesen (City of Swift Current) and Mike “Butch” Gering (R.M. of Swift Current No. 137). Chamber staff are Karla Wiens (CEO and board secretary) and Heidi Deg (executive assistant).