A refocused Chamber of Commerce and supportive local government has Ucluelet open for business.
The Small Business BC Awards will announce its 16th annual slate of winners this month and a new Open for Business recognition has been added to recognize communities “that have championed entrepreneurship in B.C.”
Ucluelet is joined by Gibsons and Lumby on the Small Community finalists list. Winners will be announced at the Small Business BC Awards Gala in Vancouver on Feb. 21.
“The finalists selected have showcased their commitment to encouraging entrepreneurship by adopting business-friendly practices in their communities,” according to a SBBC media release.
Ucluelet’s finalist profile on the awards’ website says Ucluelet has a population of roughly 1,600 and an impressive amount of small businesses per capita with over 400 business licences issued in 2018.
“Those who flew, or moved to Ucluelet mid-career, have had to find their niche in a seasonal market,” the profile reads. “Those who grew [up in Ucluelet] have survived difficult economic times characterized by shifting market drivers.”
The profile highlights the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce’s recently launched Ucluelet Business and Employee Retention and Expansion Program and Junior Achiever Youth Program.
Lara Kemps of the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce told the Westerly News that she was “excited and proud” to see Ucluelet on the finalists list and added neither program cited by the awards could have been realized without support from the District of Ucluelet.
“As a partnership; business care and education workshops were delivered, a youth engagement program was developed and delivered, a Business Retention and Expansion program and analyses was started concerning our local tourism assets and it allowed the Chamber and District to identify and respond to local business needs,” she said. “This program empowered the Chamber and District by allowing it to pivot away from destination marketing and towards economic development and allowed us to further engage with our many successful business owners.”
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noël said the nomination is a stellar showing of growth for the chamber, adding that the chamber has reinvented itself since nearly shutting down at the end of 2016 when a majority of its eight-member board resigned and remaining board members feared financial struggles could not be overcome.
“We’re hoping we can pull through this,” chamber president Dian McCreary told the Westerly at the time. “I do believe we will have support and we are going to reconstruct the chamber.”
Noël suggested that some of the trouble the chamber was going through was brought on by the district moving visitor services responsibilities away from the chamber and handing those duties off to the community’s Destination Marketing Organization, Tourism Ucluelet.
“The chamber of commerce was, kind of, put on its nose with the simple fact of visitor services being taken away and it was really important for the chamber to create a new identity for itself,” Noël said.
“The [Open for Business] nomination is fantastic because there’s such a big story to get there. There hasn’t been a lot of good stories for the chamber in the last few years—and they continue to recreate themselves—but this is definitely something for those people that were involved to be proud of.”
He added that being pushed into “survival mode” in 2016, prompted the chamber to refocus and “forced them to become more creative,” while moving away from visitor services.
“It just emphasizes and backs the decisions that we had made were for the betterment. This award would not have originated if the chamber had just continued being its status quo of visitor services,” he said. “It’s always nice to get positive feedback on decisions that were made…The chamber board made a conscious decision to go down this path and, honestly, it wasn’t a choice at first; it was a survival thing.”
He said fostering a healthy business environment is vital in Ucluelet, where many residents must create their own employment opportunities.
“It’s that independent entrepreneur coming to town and for them to understand that we’re open for them. This is what our community is about. It’s about small business and it’s about supporting small business. That’s from a coffee shop, to fish guiding, or to a guy that’s got two pickup trucks and four carpenters building homes. That’s what business is in Ucluelet,” he said.
“We’re just trying to look after the residents….A lot of them are independents, they’re entrepreneurs or they’re working for a small business and that’s who we need to support.”