A chamber’s role

Greater Vernon chamber manager George Duffy looks beyond the obvious benefits of membership.

What does the chamber of commerce really do?

You may have asked yourself this very question at some point. It is a legitimate question and many people, including those to whom the chamber is very important, have no real concept of exactly what a chamber of commerce is, how it works or why it exists in the first place.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the chamber. For example, there are those who believe the chamber is a kind of promotional networking club that once you join, you’ll meet all the movers and shakers and your business will grow. They are right, up to a point. The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce is the best network of businesses locally, and through other chambers, even globally.

Some people also believe that the chamber exists to provide direct benefits to members, like low-cost employee extended health plans, or member-to-member discounts, or special rates with credit card processing services.

And, then there are all the events the chamber organizes.  These are all important activities, but they alone are not why the chamber is there. The primary functions of the chamber go far deeper.

The chamber of commerce is a catalyst, a common vehicle through which business and professional people work together for the common good of the community. A better community means better business conditions and the chamber works for a better community for everyone.

The prime reason for the chamber of commerce to exist is this: to do whatever is necessary to keep the local area’s economic condition at a level where businesses will risk their resources in that locality in the hope of making a reasonable living. Everything else is just a means to the end.

Only by succeeding in this fundamental goal can jobs be provided to help finance all the governmental, civic, educational, cultural and charitable needs that the community faces every day.

The economy in Vernon right now is very challenging. There are very few areas of commerce that are not constrained, and the world outside the valley is changing rapidly, which presents risks and opportunities. There is a steady, growing interest in fresh foods, health, wellness, sport and recreation.  The Internet and mobile communication have spawned an insatiable demand for creative, cultural and knowledge based services, not to mention the technology to deliver those services.

There is growing demand and need for green technology and design services in construction and production.  The rise of the Asian marketplace has also completely changed the centre of gravity in world trade.

These changes offer some real opportunities for Vernon, but to make anything of them there is a need to rethink and challenge long held beliefs and attitudes. There are businesses at the leading edge, but there are also a great number of businesses yet to fully embrace changes in marketing and promotion, as well as distribution.

As a community-based business organization, the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce is helping by spearheading educational events, by building links outside with other business networks and by working with local economic development and planning officials. While the benefits of these tasks are difficult to pin a dollar figure to, they are essential to the business community as a whole. And that, is exactly why a chamber of commerce exists.

George Duffy is the general manager of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.