Thursday, January 23, 2020 – Comox Valley, B.C. A skills shortage and various staffing issues are the most pressing top-of-mind concerns for Comox Valley businesses in 2020, according to the latest MNP Comox Valley Business Leaders Survey released today.
One in four businesses surveyed say dealing with a skills shortage is their “greatest challenge” as they look ahead to the next 12 months. This was more than double the next highest challenge: 9.5 percent of those surveyed cited uncertainty about the economy as a concern.
The MNP Comox Valley Business Leaders Survey was conducted in partnership by MNP LLP, the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce, Comox Valley Economic Development Society and Cumberland Economic Development. Modelled after similar surveys conducted by MNP in other communities across Canada, the survey provides a snapshot of the local business climate and economic outlook while exploring other local business issues. Results of prior Comox Valley surveys were released in January 2015 and January 2017.
This year’s survey found 2019 brought mixed results for local businesses. About half of businesses reported doing better financially today compared to 12 months ago, while 15 percent said their business is doing worse. Following a similar pattern, three in 10 businesses hired additional employees last year while one in 10 businesses reduced the number of people they employ.
Among the other key survey findings:
The survey reflects the opinions of 200 local business leaders from telephone interviews conducted by a third-party market research firm, PRA Inc., between November 13-27, 2019. The response rate was 24 percent — a strong result for this type of survey.
Results of the survey were released and discussed at an economic outlook breakfast hosted by the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce on January 23, 2020. A summary of the results presentation is available online at www.MNP.ca/comoxvalleysurvey2020 and HERE
Collaboration has remained a constant
As Y2K passed without serious consequences a new millennium dawned, and it was business as usual for the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce. Just as active and successful as it had ever been, the Chamber continued to focus on the goal identified n 1919, dedication to the community as a whole.
In this, the final installment of our glance back into the organization’s first 100 years, we focus more on recent history, take another glance at the past, and look to the future in a conversation with CEO Dianne Hawkins.
Rocking the 2000s
The Chamber entered the new decade running! Building on its prosperous Tourism in Your Own Town program and successfully lobbying of the government with a provincial shellfish policy in 1999, the Chamber became involved in even more local causes. From being instrumental in the installation of “Oceanside Route” signs along the highway and a “Shop at Home” buy local program to establishing a transportation committee concerned with BC Ferries Fast-Cat ferries.
Promotion and support for the new airport made up a significant part of the Chamber’s work during the early part of the decade, as well as helping local retailers prepare for the influx of box stores and influence of e-commerce.
2004 saw the installation of a CEO, Dianne Hawkins, who still holds the position today. Dianne was born and raised in the Valley (fun fact - her grandfather was awarded the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year in 1999!) In conjunction with her experience with the family’s automotive business, as Operations Manager of a private local college, and her understanding of the business community provided a good grasp of local business needs in her role as CEO.
Over the past 15 years, Dianne has seen the Chamber’s activities ebb and flow with the economy and society’s influences, but she notes that collaboration has been the one constant throughout.
Reflections on the past and excitement for the future
From changes in the local infrastructure and economy, how have things shifted over the last couple of decades?
“The community has grown and so has membership. When I first started, we had approximately 400+ members, reached 770 at the start of the next decade, which was the highest we’ve ever had. Of course, changes in economy and the transfer of tourism to the new Visitor Centre in 2012 eventually impacted those numbers. Having said that, the Chamber has always been able to adapt to change and respond quickly.”
And what has remained the same over the years, both more recently and going back decades?
“In terms of challenges, some things remain constant such as transportation, taxes, government red-tape and infrastructure. Other issues have certainly arisen over the years and are impacting individuals and local businesses such as homelessness and affordable housing.
“The Chamber is a strong local voice for business and we are pleased with the level of collaboration we’ve achieved over the years. Collaboration is more than setting up a committee or drawing up a detailed report. Collaboration is an action word; the Chamber is in the community building relationships and discovering innovative ways to get things done with other organizations. People see us making connections – it’s something we do well.”
What projects would you say have been a highlight, both recently and in the last 100 years?
“In the past decade, our work on a companion paper to the Regional Growth Strategy in conjunction with the then Cumberland Chamber of Commerce was well received, working with the North Island Hospital project team and the Campbell River Chamber was fulfilling. In the years preceding that, we loved being involved in the 2010 Spirit Committee with CVEDS and holding Olympic procurement workshops with RBC, as well as the 2009 “Grab Your Bag” Campaign that launched 85,000 reusable bags in the community on February 13, 2009. [In fact, that project lead to provincial recognition and the “Bagless BC Policy” presented by the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce in the 2009 Provincial policy sessions. As a result of the Chamber’s efforts, we were awarded BC Chamber of the Year Award in 2010.]
Back to collaboration, I’m thrilled with the partnerships we have with Island Chambers, our provincial and our national connections. The network is strong.
“Over the decades, as a business focused, membership-driven, nonpartisan organization, the work the Chamber has done has made a difference.” Be it pushing for better roads and services or as an early advocate for tourism and resource-based industries, our influence has been felt through the years.”
Things don’t just happen at the Chamber, it takes a dedicated board of directors and a great team. It took a vision from strong leaders in our community to continue to see the Chamber work effectively in our community and have an influence. Without the dedication of the many boards and wonderful staff I have had the pleasure of working with over the past 15 years we may not have achieved the great things we have. I am honoured to have had the pleasure of working with such dedicated individuals.
And where do you see things going from here?
“Continuing to contribute on advisory councils in our community, whether its liquid waste management, water, grease trap tipping, the Official Community Plan Advisory Council, the 5th street bridge upgrade or any other projects that present themselves. The Chamber will continue to provide resources to our members and the business community as a whole.
“The Chamber will continue to set the standard, focus on making an impact and carry on the tradition of engaging the local community in our plans. The future looks bright for the Chamber and the Comox Valley.”
We’re looking forward to the next 100 years!
Membership grows and businesses benefit
As the 1980s kicked off, inflation soared, and the Iran hostage situation dominated headlines. Disco’s beat went on, but its days were numbered. And in the Valley, the effects of a slow economy could be felt. But by the end of the decade and into the nineties, the Chamber had got its groove back.
Staying alive in the eighties
For the Courtenay-Comox Chamber of Commerce, the 1980s began with a membership of just 40. But by 1982 membership had increased to 98. At the 1983 AGM, guest speaker Nanaimo Mayor Frank Ney spoke with optimism about the economy, urging the audience to look ahead to growth and brighter days. Turns out he was right. By 1984 membership increased from 253 to 306 making the Valley Chamber one of the largest on the Island.
This era of growth continued as the Chamber worked for greater civilian aviation use of CFB Comox resulting in the announcement that a new multi-million-dollar civilian air terminal facility would be built. A Valley 86 committee formed in order to reap the benefits of Expo, and the chamber office had a computer system installed!
The middle of the decade also saw a proposal for a Comox Valley Economic Development Committee to be run in association with the Chamber. The idea of local businessman Bill Walton, he felt an organization with representation from municipal governments and special interest groups and staffed by a Chamber-hired administrator would diminish the possibility of parochialism. By summer 1986, the Economic Development Commission formed under the terms of the provincial government’s Partners in Enterprise program.
After years of feeling ignored and lobbying for their own Chamber, Union Bay finally joined in with CV Chamber in December 1987. Other items that took precedent included the Chamber’s support for a public transit system and opposition to the proposed federal goods and services tax in 1989. Even though it looked as though the tax was a fait accompli, bright spots like the BC Lions training camp and the likelihood of a new highway ended the decade on an upswing.
Note-worthy in the nineties
The Valley truly was the land of opportunity in the 1990s, as the fastest growing Regional District outside the Lower Mainland. The North Island College expansion, a new shopping centre, Saratoga Beach and Mount Washington development all offered entrepreneurial possibilities.
In July 1990, BC Transit started running in the Comox Valley. The inaugural day saw 2,000 people crowd aboard the new buses, causing schedules to be delayed throughout the first day of service.
“The Deuce,” the old steam locomotive next to the Chamber, had fallen into disrepair by 1993 due to neglect and vandalism. Three years and thousands of dollars and volunteer hours later, it got restored to its former glory and even had a new set of stairs attached so school children could safely go up and through the cab. (People can still view it today when the Chamber is open!)
In 1994, the first annual Trumpeter Swan Harvest Banquet took place with proceeds going to the Wildlife Legacy Fund to protect the birds and their habitat. As host to one-tenth of the North American Pacific Coast population of trumpeter swans, this cause captivated many locals. In fact, a swan even made it onto the Chamber’s new logo in 1996, which people were welcome to come and view on the Chamber's new “World Wide Web site on the Internet” at a special reception at the Filberg Centre.
As the decade progressed, new lifts on the mountain, a new theatre, McDonald’s and Aquatic Centre added to the area’s allure for locals and tourists alike. And for the Chamber, the decade ended with some notable accomplishments.
In May 1999, it submitted and successfully supported a lobbying policy at the BC Chamber of Commerce annual convention. One of 80 policies reviewed, The BC Shellfish Industry: Environment, Export and Employment detailed the tremendous potential of the industry; the policy was supported unanimously and distributed to the provincial cabinet and all MLAs. The achievement was comparable to having a private member's bill passed in the legislature. The previous year, a joint submission with the Campbell River chamber led to the re-establishment of the Inland Island Highway to Campbell River to four-lane status. This reversal of policy was directly due to the lobbying efforts of both communities initiated by the Chambers of Commerce.
Even with worries surrounding the arrival of big box stores like Walmart and the uncertainty of Y2K, the future looked bright as the Chamber and its member headed into the new millennium.
Come celebrate with us at our centennial bash and dance to tunes from the amazing Time Benders on September 28 at the Native Sons Hall! For tickets, click here.
But in the face of change and challenges, the Chamber remained a constant
By the 1960's, change had gripped Canada, as it had much of the modern world. The Cold War and the space race dominated headlines. Equal and civil rights, too, began making the news. As the baby boom decelerated, families began moving into the suburbs.
In the Comox Valley, the population grew, and certain sectors started undergoing transformation. Mining and logging began to slow as tourism and service industries blossomed. Courtenay-Comox Chamber of Commerce activities of the day reflected that change.
In one of the most transitional periods of history, the Chamber managed to stay relevant during the 1960's and 70's. Our look back in this centennial year highlights just how constant the Chamber's presence has been in the region through the past century.
Staying significant in the sixties
The 1960's started off on a high note for the Chamber. Having just moved into their new location near the air park, the arrival of the “Deuce” – a 50-ton locomotive that had plied the rails of the Comox Logging and Railway Company (CLRC) – cemented the Chamber's presence.
Built in Pennsylvania in 1910, the locomotive became the property of the Canadian Western Lumber Company, parent organization of the CLRC. Assigned as the #2 locomotive (aka, the two-spot), she was soon christened the Deuce and worked hauling logs, crew cars and ballast around the Island for almost four decades.
When it came time to replace her with a more modern diesel locomotive, it seemed only fitting she return home to the Comox Valley to commemorate the age of steam and all it had done for the region. With her whistle tooting and paint gleaming, she ran up the E&N Railway from Ladysmith and was mounted on display at the edge of the highway next to the new Chamber building in September 1960 to be admired by all.
Was the Deuce a harbinger of the changes coming to the region? Perhaps.
Mining activity in the area continued to lessen, with families leaving Cumberland in record numbers. Courtenay continued to grow due to the post-war baby boom, as well as improved infrastructure and transportation. New schools and businesses popped up throughout the 1960's.
Around that time the Chamber coined the term “Actionland” for the region and displayed it prominently on their letterhead, as well as touting various area attractions, such as “deep water harbours,” “daily air, bus and train service,” “winter and summer playground for Vancouver Island,” “industrial possibilities – large supply of electric power,” “sportsmen’s rendezvous – game paradise,” among others. Then-Chamber President, Don Watson, signed off the President’s Newsletter from March 1966, saying “Let’s have more ‘Action’ in our land.”
Ongoing Chamber projects during that time pertained to the feasibility of a regional college in the Valley, production of tourism brochures that promoted the area’s skiing and fishing, marketing events to businesses on 5th Street, such as Christmas lighting and window displays, and the seemingly perpetual membership drives.
Slip-sliding into the seventies
The seventies proved to be quieter in terms of getting and retaining members. Even though board members carried on advocating for citizens and businesses in the Valley, it can be noted that it was not the best of times for the Chamber.
In 1972, Mrs. Ruth McKellar, long-time Chamber secretary, presented an impassioned plea to the Courtenay council requesting financial help, as there was a possibility the Chamber tourist bureau may have to close:
“Chamber members recognize that, in the past, channels of communication between the Chamber and the City have been almost non-existent. We consider this to be a tragedy, for just as you gentlemen are here to make the city a better place in which to live and work, so is the Chamber of Commerce. Surely, two can work together and accomplish more than one. We invite you to work with us in 1972. . ."
“We must seek good secondary industry for our area and tourism must be promoted for the benefit of all businessman, not only motel and hotel owners. Your Chamber of Commerce should be a supporting voice for council.”
Arrangements were made, and the Chamber tourist bureau continued to operate.
Despite the challenges of the 1960's and 70's, things, such as as Market Days and the annual Citizen of the Year Award, emerged from those challenging times. As the Valley headed into the future, membership in 1979-1980 had dropped to 40 members. Things had to improve, didn’t they? And they did! Stay tuned for more..
Through tough times & good, Chamber’s commitment to community endures
With the world at war again and the “boys” back in the trenches, challenges faced everyone in the early 1940s.
And for the Courtenay Chamber of Commerce (known as the Board of Trade then), it was no different. Budgetary shortfalls and low membership hindered the organization throughout that period. Despite that, the Board managed to survive and keep moving forward through the end of the decade and into the next with unwavering commitment and numerous contributions to the local communities.
Focussing on the forties and fifties, we invite you to continue to look back at our 100-year history and see how our past helped shape the Valley’s present.
Fighting to survive in the forties
Newspaper reports from the Board of Trade’s Annual General Meeting in 1940 noted that dredging of the slough had allowed additional boats to use it but more good roads were needed as Courtenay evolved into a business centre.
Freight charges to the North Island continued to be an issue. Rates got charged as though freight got shipped from the mainland via Victoria, even though it travelled from Nanoose to Courtenay. The board vowed to investigate the “discrimination.”
The Board had also approached the City about reducing commercial electrical rates. And why not? The area’s 25-cycle electrical system had a reputation for being temperamental. In fact, that summer it caused a tourist’s radio to blow up! In spite of that mishap, 1940 marked a banner year for tourism with 970 visitors dropping in at the Tourist Bureau.
However, those and other civic issues understandably took a back seat to war efforts through the next few years. In 1943, The Argus (the Valley’s newspaper of the day) reported then-president Mr. D.B. McLean stating, “I know that nearly all of you are on two or three other committees of Red Cross, etc., that take much of your spare time, but we must keep the Board of Trade alive as it has a very definite place in the community.”
With a reduction in meetings and through the efforts of its members, the organization managed to stay alive. Though slowed by the war and shaken by a 1946 earthquake centred in Courtenay, the Board forged ahead in its support of various local endeavours, including the championing of a new wharf in Comox, flights between Comox and Vancouver with Queen Charlotte Airlines and the ongoing road and rail issues.
By 1949, the Board had taken to calling itself the Chamber of Commerce and even took up Radio CVJI’s offer of promoting the Comox District on their Victoria Station. They had, it seemed, escaped the decade still intact.
Fit for the fifties
Even though the Chamber entered the new decade $40 in the red, things were looking up. President Bool noted that 40 new members had signed up, bringing the total to 118, and “30 or so planned to join soon.” It must have happened, because by 1951, the deficit had turned into a $860 surplus!
Advocating for proper ferry service to Hornby, hosting events, such as a lunch for Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, staging a fair for provincial Chambers of Commerce at the Native Sons’ Hall and contributing to Upper Island tourism made up just some of the organization’s duties in the early fifties.
Regardless of their work, the Chamber still encountered occasional setbacks. Feeling the pinch of budgetary issues, it actually teetered on bankruptcy in 1957, so once again a membership drive took place and the community responded.
In fact, by 1958, both citizens and City Hall recognized the value of and need for the Chamber, and council allowed for purchase of a site for a new Tourist Information Centre near the city limits at 21st Street. The location also included a welcome arch, a park and boat-launching facilities on the Courtenay River – and it remains our home to this very day!
That year’s AGM included a guest speaker predicting that tourism would surpass mining, farming and fishing and be second only to forestry. Unfortunately, while his prediction of a 20-hour work week in 50 years hasn’t come to pass, he was correct in noting that the Valley would need to rely on all its industries, inhabitants and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to remain vital and relevant into the future.
Supporting our friends and neighbours from the beginning
In 1919, Courtenay-Comox, like much of Canada and the world, started getting back to business after five years of war. A vigorous early part of the decade had seen telephone, electricity and the E&N Railway arrive in the Valley. Alas, the war had put many lives and dreams on hold. But with the signing of the Armistice, a renewed feeling of hope had returned.
On March 22, 1919, riding that new-found sense of optimism, a group of businessmen officially chartered the Courtenay Chamber of Commerce (then called the Board of Trade). Charging an annual membership fee of $5, the board stipulated that members must be directly involved with tourism.
So began our 100-year journey advocating for tourism, trade and the Valley as a whole.
In this centennial year of the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce, we look back at our beginnings, celebrating the highs, looking at the lows and finding out about the in-betweens over the decades through a series of articles. Today’s piece focusses on the years between the wars – an era of excitement, expansion, and, finally, fear for the future.
The roaring twenties – Valley-style
While their main mandate initially existed to help expand tourism, the newly established board quickly became involved in other matters, big and small, about town. Yes, there were discussions with the CPR to encourage extension of the railway past Courtenay and support was given for the creation of parks, but they also took the time to champion the causes and concerns of their members.
Imagine the insults flying at the protest about higher express rates being charged – shipping a 50-pound box of butter to Ladysmith went from 45 cents to 70 cents! YES to Daylight Savings Time, and NO to making Vancouver Island a separate province.
Improving roads as well as boat, rail and mail service between other communities perennially took precedent. But they also made time to coordinate seasonal community dances, where games of chance took place and fun was had by all – after all, prohibition had ended in 1920. Looking back, serving baked beans before the spring Klondike Dance might not have been the best choice.
In 1923, the Chamber organized itself into six bureaus: Good Roads and Transportation; Civic; Publicity; Agricultural and Horticultural; Industrial Trade and Commerce; and, Legal.
By mid-decade, it was well-known that “Courtenay’s future is on the river,” and the board formed a committee to work with the City to help organize negotiations about dredging and straightening the channel, making it easier for boats to navigate. And by the year 1929, the Board had begun pushing for an airport in the area, a ferry between Comox and Powell River, as well as one from Buckley Bay to Denman Island.
The dirty thirties – a time of expansion and challenges
YES, LET’S GO!
What's made Courtenay the undisputed centre of the Upper Island?
Nothing but the optimism of its business men and their unquenchable belief in the future of their town. It's the same optimism, the same belief, that converted Seattle from a sandhill to the greatest port on the northern Pacific; it's the same spirit that is driving Vancouver forward towards her destiny. Join and work with the Courtenay-Comox Board of Trade to make Courtney bigger, better, and more prosperous in 1930…
Tickets are one dollar each and ladies are especially invited…
So begins the ad for the 1930 annual Board of Trade meeting and dinner. Even with the start of the Great Depression, hopefulness reigned – at least for the time being.
While the local paper made little or no mention of the 1929 stock market crash, some effects of the Depression had begun to seep in it seems, as the annual Klondike Dance wasn’t held in 1930, putting a strain on cash flow as the Board relied on that $250, or so, profit.
Depression or not, the start of the decade continued to see plenty of activity, as well as cooperation with the Cumberland Board of Trade and the newly formed one in Campbell River. The Comox Airport was approved, and in 1931 the Comox-Powell River ferry began to run daily from Comox Wharf. Tourism and buying local remained high on the agenda.
However, as the decade progressed, the realities of the world’s financial crisis and political tensions had made an impression. Gas prices continued to rise, loss of employment in some industries and housing shortages had started to become a concern, and a meeting of 13 Vancouver Island Boards of Trade even included a heated debate over the suggestion to exclude Japanese from BC.
By 1939, the Courtenay-Comox Board had been in existence for 20 years and showed no sign of stopping, even with the country heading back to war. It had established itself as a permanent and significant part of the community, regardless of the economic and political circumstances.
Their long-standing mandate to help make the Valley a better place to live and work would prove to hold them in good stead through the war years and beyond, as we’ll see in our continuing look at the past 100 years of Chamber history.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce, and we couldn’t be more proud to celebrate our centennial with the community we’ve championed since 1919.
While the Chamber is best known today for our support of the local business community, promoting and celebrating the entire region has always been central to our mandate.
Did you know, for example, that in 1929 a group of Chamber board members dedicated to tourism promotion loaded their packs and ponies and headed out on an overnight expedition to Mount Becher, many sleeping under the stars near the shores of a then-unnamed lake?
Or that, in 1938, the Chamber president made a humble request that planes travelling from Vancouver stop in Courtenay on their way to Zeballos? Yeah, we had to read that a couple of times to make sure we got it right too! Or did you know that we asked the City of Courtenay in 1940 to put up a sign warning visitors about our 25-cycle electrical system after a poor tourist’s radio blew up?