Like many North Okanagan transplants, Adrian Johnson moved to Vernon for the lifestyle, and to raise a family.
The father of three-year-old daughter Isla, and newborn son Jasper, Johnson doesn’t have to look far to find the motivation to try and make the region a better place to live. As the newly elected Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce president, he is well-positioned to do just that.
“If you look around Vernon, many people see their kids leave when they graduate from high school,” said Johnson, originally from the U.K. He and wife Kelly moved to Vernon from Smithers three years ago.
“They find it very difficult to find a job in Vernon that leads to a good career path. At the moment, the people that are able to achieve that are the lucky ones.
“I would like very much for my kids to be able to hang around here until I’m very, very old.”
Johnson, who is on paternity leave as senior manager at KPMG’s Vernon office, has volunteered for other non-profit organizations, but is relatively new to the chamber scene. He said the experience has been a bit of an eye-opener.
“The role is less easy to define,” he said. “It’s everything from arranging events all the way to political lobbying and trying to advocate for certain policies. It requires quite a range of certain skills and personalities.”
Many of those skills – including marketing, finance, HR and communications – and personalities are provided by the ever-evolving chamber board and officers. Joining Johnson are vice-president Jaron Chasca, secretary-treasurer Debbie Stoddard, past-president Ingrid Dilischneider and directors Marlene Higgins, Bill Hubbard, Markus Schrott, Matthew Davidson, Dauna Grant, Rob Tedham, Andrew Powell, Tracy Cobb and Caroline Radics.
“We’ve got a great board,” said Johnson. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve taken steps to make sure we have a broad range of skills which represent everything from small business through to big business. And also the broad range of skills necessary to run an effective organization.”
In order for the community to thrive, Johnson said it first needs to reach a critical mass in order to support a multitude of career paths. And it needs to grow strategically.
He sees evidence of the latter with bigger businesses like Kal Tire, Tolko and Nixon Wenger setting up their corporate headquarters in town.
Part of the chamber’s strategy for achieving critical mass includes supporting a referendum for the unification of Greater Vernon, including Coldstream and surrounding electoral areas, into one governing body.
“Our economy is no longer distinctly Vernon and Coldstream,” said Johnson. “Our economy is regional, and for effective decision making, governance should also be at a broader level.”
Vernon (1892) and Coldstream (1906) were incorporated more than a century ago, and back then, Johnson said it made sense for them to operate as separate entities. But with so much overlap between the economies, he believes there is tremendous potential for cost savings and efficiency through amalgamation.
“Even when the chamber was formed in 1961, over 50 years ago, it was clear to the business community that we needed a body that encompassed the whole area to be effective,” he said.
“Back then, the geographical boundaries made sense. Now, they don’t.”
Johnson would also like to see Vernon improve its brand, and promote itself better to outside markets. Given what it has to offer, he said it is definitely achievable.
“You have great connections to North America through Kelowna Airport. We’ve got lots of people that want to live here and we’ve got great skills available through UBC (Okanagan). It’s a tremendous environment to be in.
“It needs to be driven by the business community and people need to buy into that brand for it to be accepted.”