Thank you for having me here today to delegate to council. As you know, my name is Sally Litchfield and I’m the CEO of the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been in this role since November 2020 – which in case you’re wondering, was quite a time to step into a leadership role of an organization whose purpose is to support local businesses.
Today I’m pleased to be here to take the opportunity to share a little more about what the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce is and what our role is within the community.
The term Chamber of Commerce is one of those interesting terms that we all nod along to and feel we have an understanding of, but if we pause and think how we would articulate that … it’s not a simple definition.
A Chamber of Commerce is a type of business association. Chambers in general, around the world, have been around since the 1400s. It’s an antiquated term!
A Chamber of Commerce serves a niche group of business owners and leaders. In our case, and the case of many of our peers across the province and country – our niche is geographically determined. We serve businesses that are both located in Centre Wellington and those who serve the CW community.
Other Chambers choose their niche – for example, there is a Canadian LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce – the niche group of business owners that they serve are those who identify as LGBT+ entrepreneurs within Canada.
Existing to support a business community is sometimes as far as the similarities go. How independent chambers choose to do that differs, changes, and evolves…
Locally, as the CWCC, we are Wellington County’s largest business association. We are an independent non-profit organization. We do not receive any government funding. We are a member driven organization – funded 100% by our membership base. We are a small but mighty team, of myself and 2 other staff members; as a non-profit, we are governed and supported by a board of directors made up of local business leaders.
Our membership structure is annual fees, that are based on number of full-time employees of a business; we strive to keep that as low as possible, and then add-ons beyond that such as attending events, advertising opportunities, participating in programs etc, are pay to play, intentionally so, so that members may choose where they engage.
We have seen about a 15% increase in our membership over the past 2 years and we now have over 380 members, which represents close to a third of businesses in CW – which benchmarked against other Chambers who serve geographical niches, that is quite good. A number of you I have met with, served on committees with, etc – so you know that ‘quite good’ isn’t our goal – we are working towards a goal of a membership of 500 businesses.
To put it very simply – we exist to support the local business community. A thriving business community is critical to the success of the greater community. A thriving business community has employees injecting money into the community, has businesses supporting community activities, etc etc
A thriving business community supports a strong local economy
A strong local economy is critical;
Another way to look at us then is as a community centric organization; we create community prosperity
Chambers are able to bring together the players on a community or business issue, and work together to fill the gap.
That might be solving problems, creating programs, advising on solutions, simply facilitating conversations
We do everything through the business community because business provides the economic power to solve problems
Building and maintaining a strong local economy rises the tide in the community
And a rising tide raises all boats
We do this by remaining fluid and flexible because our sphere of purpose is quite literally – whatever it takes, and whenever the opportunities present themselves
I’ll provide an example here – in May of 2021 we were presented with an opportunity to distribute rapid screening kits. This was through the Chamber network within Ontario, and Chambers across the province were given the opportunity to opt in. The federal government had access to the kits but hadn’t been able to find a way to distribute them. We opted in. It was the right thing to do. It was a way for us to help protect businesses so that they could do business. There were no dollars attached to this program initially. Our team was already performing at maximum capacity. But we said yes. It’s what we do. We put a call out to our community for support and within days we had a location provided by a business, sponsorship dollars, and a system established. Over the next 18 months we distributed approximately 70,000 rapid screening kits to the businesses of Wellington County. We made it work. For the community. It’s what we do.
We recently underwent an internal strategic planning process, and determined 3 strategic pillars that our day-to-day operations fall under:
Connection - We maximize the member experience by connecting members with new partners and providing opportunities to collaborate through our various networking & advertising platforms. This pillar, Connection, is perhaps where our brains first go when we think of chamber activities – networking programs, events, etc, but it goes beyond that. Our network is our largest asset – I can’t single handedly support 400 member businesses – financially or emotionally!, but they can support each other.
I say all the time – we can’t make people do business with you, but we can get you in a room – be that literally or figuratively – a room full of people who might be interested.
We can’t make the magic happen, but we can foster the environment where the magic might happen.
Business people talking business can truly be a magical thing.
Everything we plan under this pillar is done very intentionally – to foster the environment where magic might happen; and the needs of that environment changes regularly – what they needed pre pandemic is not what they needed during the pandemic and is not what they need post pandemic; what we’re doing this year isn’t necessarily the blueprint for 2024 and 2025. We’re responsive to member needs. It means we change how we do things sometimes.
The second pillar is Knowledge - We are the community leader in sharing relevant and current information and updates as they impact the local business community. We think of it as knowledge translation and transfer – what does this mean, does it impact our businesses; this was a critical lifeline for businesses during the pandemic … we had members share with us that they were able to stop watching the provincial press conferences – they knew if it impacted them, we’d send out an email within hours.
Our focus this year in the Knowledge pillar is sharing this content in a variety of ways – from social media, emails, blogs, videos, live events, podcast … the understanding that all people don’t want to receive information – be that educational, relevant updates, etc, in the exact same way. So we’re expanding our offerings to accommodate that.
And the last pillar - Influence - We assist in creating the conditions for growth and enhancing the competitiveness & inclusivity of the Centre Wellington business community through communication and government relations.
These Advocacy efforts and activities differentiate us from other organizations that support businesses.
At the tables we sit around, we represent the voice of the Centre Wellington business community. We provide anecdotal evidence of things happening in our community. We can bring members to the table. We can bring data to the table. We can activate the business community in a way that no other organization can.
I’ll mention the Ontario and Canadian Chambers of Commerce here because I think it’s an important piece to clarify. The Ontario & Canadian Chambers are partners of ours – we lean heavily on them when it comes to provincial and federal advocacy, but they are not our parent organizations, they don’t provide us with funding, in fact we pay to be members of theirs. We remain independent, but, we leverage that relationship when it comes to advocacy and when it comes to buying power from an affinity program perspective.
There are more Chambers in Ontario than provincial ridings. At Chamber Network tables, we have representation from every corner of the province. We make sure the Centre Wellington voice is heard. Yes this is happening in our community. Yes our businesses need support in the following areas. Yes that should be a provincial advocacy priority, or no, there are bigger priorities.
From a membership perspective, there are many pathways that a member can take through a chamber membership ; every member takes a slightly different path with slightly different goals under different pillars; we work hard to customize the member experience wherever possible and provide as much value as possible; that said, as with any membership, you get out what you put in
And there’s an element here of community investment. We exist to create community prosperity. To build a strong local economy. If that’s something that resonates with a business, we hope they are members of ours. It’s an investment in the greater business community.
I wanted to close with a few thoughts on what this all means for you – first and foremost, this network is yours to engage with – whether that’s on an individual level or as a council or township. Consider us a resource. If you want to know how the business community feels about something – it is as simple as asking. I don’t always know – but I can always find out.
I’d like to encourage you to keep the channels of communication open – not just from a perspective of providing updates to the businesses, but beyond that, what are you hearing, what are we hearing, are there opportunities for us to work together to fill a gap. It’s what we do.
Lastly, Community issues are business issues and we look forward to being at the tables.
Thank you for continuing to invite us to the table. We look forward to being impactful together – making Centre Wellington the very best place to live, work, and play.
To watch this delegation click here.