After a tumultuous 2016, Ucluelet’s chamber of commerce is looking forward to calmer waters.
Black Rock Resort’s stunning wine cellar was full of optimism on Jan. 29 as the chamber held its annual general meeting and assured its membership that better times are ahead.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the chamber, which was registered as a non-profit on May 6, 1947, according to the board’s president Dian McCreary.
She said 2016 was a “challenging” year for the chamber that parted ways with its executive director Sally Mole in May and saw a majority of its board resign in late-November.
“For a large part of the year, we operated without a manager leaving the board to run the business of the chamber,” she said adding a new manager was hired in October but resigned in December.
“The remaining board of directors have worked hard to rebuild and keep the chamber moving forward…We now have a strong board; a board who are committed to taking the ship from the unsettled waters of 2016 back into calm waters.”
McCreary said the chamber has hired a new general manager, Erin MacDonald, who currently resides in Nanaimo but is transitioning to the West Coast and is expected to start her new position this month.
“I think that I can make a big, big difference in terms of communication,” MacDonald said at the meeting. “Right now, we’re in a great position in transition and I’m really looking forward to connecting with all of you, meeting with all of you and revitalizing the chamber as the voice of business in the community.”
McCreary said the biggest change on the chamber’s docket for 2017 is the transition of Ucluelet’s visitor services responsibilities to Tourism Ucluelet.
“This is a positive for everyone,” she said adding the chamber had handled visitor services since 2004 and the time-consuming portfolio sapped energy and focus away from the chamber’s ability to support its members.
“It will allow the chamber to now fully engage with our business community as a whole and follow our mission of promoting trade interests and community welfare…We really do want to focus on promoting all businesses.”
Board-member Jackie Carmichael said a survey is being emailed to chamber members this week to collect feedback that will help guide the board forward.
“We’re looking for your feedback,” Carmichael said. “We need that more than anything else…We’re listening. How can we help you and your business? How can we respond to you and your business? How can we serve you and your business? That’s what your chamber is here for and we’re going to do that.”
Tourism Ucluelet’s Tracy Eeftink also spoke during the meeting and expressed admiration and gratitude for the chamber’s past and current efforts.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better,” she said adding TU will work closely with the chamber moving forward.
She said Tourism Ucluelet plans to recreate the Pacific Rim Visitors Centre’s image to bring it in line with the destination marketing organization’s promotional campaigns.
“We’ve reinvented our messaging and we’re saying repeatedly, ‘Stay an extra day and play,’” she said.
“We want to build a healthy economy for the stakeholders and provide an exceptional experience for visitors in a meaningful way that’s respectful for our community. We want visitors to come here, unplug and reconnect and to leave here stress free.”
Mayor Dianne St. Jacques expressed confidence in the chamber’s ability to move forward and cheered the board’s commitment to Ucluelet.
“This is an exciting day. I really feel the positive energy in the room,” she said.
“I really want to give a special thank you for these ladies here who have taken the bull by the horns and are dragging us back on track with a lot of forcefulness, which is what it needed right now and it’s terrific….Thank you so much for your commitment, not only to the chamber but to your community.”
St. Jacques said the chamber will be a key player in a variety of economic development opportunities the district is pursuing this year and laid out the current projects Ucluelet is working on.
She said the district is negotiating with both the provincial and federal governments to obtain the Amphitrite Point lands around Ucluelet’s former Coast Guard station and suggested, if those efforts bear fruit, the site could become a tremendous asset to the community.
The Barkley Community Forest that Ucluelet shares with the Toquaht First Nation will see its first cut this year, according to St. Jacques.
“They’re looking at doing their first cut this year. It will be approximately 34,000 cubic metres and they’re looking at doing that by early spring,” she said. “It’s an exciting time. There’s a bit of money to be made there.”
She said the Long Beach Airport’s $1.3 million lighting upgrade was officially completed on Jan. 9 and local airline KD Air began scheduling its first nighttime flights on Jan. 11.
She noted the Pacific Rim National Park is creating a $17 million, 22 kilometre, bike path that will boost the West Coast experience.
“That’s going to be a game changer for our area in that it will put our name out there even more and the different experiences people can have when they come here now is going to be terrific,” she said.
She noted the district continues to receive Resort Municipality Initiative funding from the province and is spending that money on new assets that enhance the town’s offerings to both locals and visitors.
“It’s the province acknowledging that small communities like ours, that host up to 10,000 visitors a night, need some help with providing what all these folks need,” she said, adding RMI dollars recently went towards: a new parking lot at Big Beach, upgrades to Ucluelet’s skate park and the current construction of a pedestrian walkway between Coast Guard Road and He-Tin-Kis Park.
She said RMI funds will also be used to scatter new visitor information kiosks throughout town with the first one going in at the Wild Pacific Trail’s Lighthouse Loop.
“I think it will really enhance the visitor experience,” she said.
She said she was thrilled to hear Western Canada Marine Response had chosen Ucluelet’s harbour as a location for a new oil spill response centre.
“We will see some employment from it and we will also have that presence and, more importantly, we’ll have the boats here to get out on the water immediately if there’s ever any issue,” she said.
The district is also in talks with Island Health regarding a potential health centre, according to St. Jacques.
“We would build and own the facility and then we would lease it out,” she said. “What we would be looking for, before we even considered something like that of course, is commitment and long-term leases, because there would need to be a loan put in place to be able to get that accomplished.”
She added such a centre would promote local development.
“We feel it’s a really positive step. A lot of folks in Ucluelet sometimes feel a little ill at ease when they think about their medical centre, especially in the case of an emergency where we’re cut off from our hospital in Tofino,” she said. “It affects people’s consideration when they’re moving here, or deciding to build here, or opening up a business.”
She added the district continues to review its proposed increases to Ucluelet’s business licence fees to pay for bylaw enforcement.
“Your business licence this year will not be required until May 1. That gives us four free months for businesses to operate this year so, hopefully, people are happy about that,” she said. “Also, we recognize that we were late in the game last fall starting the conversation of this, so it also gives us as a council and the community a bit more time to get it ready.”