Small businesses have big impact on Tofino

Tofino’s business community packed into Jamie’s Rainforest Inn on March 27 for the Tofino-Long Beach chamber of commerce annual general meeting.

The chamber is coming off a successful 2013 in which it was named the runner up for BC’s chamber of the year, a significant coup for the small organization.

“The Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce is an inspiring example of a small Chamber punching above its weight and helping to tangibly lead its community forward,” said BC chamber of commerce president and CEO John Winter.

Mayor Josie Osborne was the event’s keynote speaker and gave high accolades to her business-representing audience.

“It’s because of you we have such an incredible and vibrant local economy,” she said.

Osborne said Tofino boasts about 425 business licenses in a community where only about 1,600 people over the age of 19 are living.

“That means about one in four adults who live in Tofino owns a business; that’s pretty incredible,” she said.

The chamber expects to spend about $152,700 in 2014 with the lion’s share of this coming from about $98,000 worth of membership revenue.

Membership rates were raised by $25 this year­ ($5 for non-profit organizations) and the chamber’s sole full-time employee executive director Gord Johns said this increase was needed to keep the level of services intact.

“It was a very difficult decision by our board but to continue to deliver the service that we’re delivering and with the size of the membership they felt it was an adequate time to do so,” he said adding the chamber had not increased fees in five years.

The bulk of the chamber’s spending will be $85,000 for employee wages and benefits—for one full-time and one part-time employee—and $24,000 to the Raincoast Education Society (RES), which helps deliver the chamber’s Ambassador Program.

Johns touted the success of the Ambassador Program and said the province is working on modeling the program in BC’s other resort municipalities.

He said the chamber’s partnership with the RES has allowed the program to expand and diversify.

Everyone who takes the free program receives an Ambassadors Card that is attached to special offers from local businesses and Johns said the chamber will lobby hard for local businesses to offer benefits to cardholders.

“We’re going to really push a buy local campaign this year and it’s going to be intricately connected to that Tofino ambassador card,” he said.

He said the chamber’s roughly 330 members is impressive and on par with larger communities like Duncan’s chamber which as about 350 members and Parksville’s at around 450 members.

He said the chamber’s membership is so high because it invests in people and builds relationships between people and place.

“Our town is made up of small business,” Johns said. “Business is about relationships and we know relationships are about people.”

Memberships services include networking opportunities through a variety of events including six sponsored luncheons, nine Green Breakfast Meetings, five Mayor’s breakfasts, and five sponsored workshops.

“We have incredible sponsors, we have people that get it, they really want to support the business community they buy lunch to bring people together,” Johns said. “We had a lot of really prominent people from throughout British Columbia, leaders in the community, leaders in the region, and people that brought information and ways to network in our communities.”

He said connecting people community and business is the best form of economic development.

“If you don’t know each other you don’t trust each other and if you don’t trust each other you’re not going to do business with each other,” he said.

He spoke to the chamber’s push for higher learning on the West Coast and “positioning Tofino as a higher learning destination."

He said the chamber will continue to be a strong advocate for social issues like preserving the natural environment of Clayoquot Sound.

The chamber received much attention in December for its voiced opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

“I don’t think we expected to even come close to being the voice that we’ve become around that lobby,” Johns said.

reporter@westerlynews.ca