The official motto of the United Counties of Leeds & Grenville is: “Where lifestyle grows good business”. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it doesn’t seem to apply to North Grenville these days. Good business, I imagine, means that businesses are doing well, providing good service and possibly even working together to improve the overall business environment. Recent statements by the North Grenville Chamber of Commerce seem to cast doubt on that.
Full disclosure: I was on the Chamber Board for a year, resigning because the Chamber Board was not supporting local business, preferring to ally itself with corporations based outside the municipality. On top of that, there seemed to be no plan in place to actually make the Chamber a positive source of ideas and networking ideas for local businesses.
The Chamber Board now has two members who work for the Royal Bank, which seems unbalanced, and one who works for Metroland Media, a division of Torstar. Some members have only a very tangential link to North Grenville, not being actually based here. This lack of focus on local business was reflected in their decision not to support a recent Kemptville Business Improvement Area [KBIA] initiative to promote businesses in Downtown Kemptville.
In fact, their relationship with the KBIA is, to say the least, strained. They seem to see the downtown business group as a rival for the affections of commercial operations in that part of the municipality. When Councillor Donovan Arnaud was given responsibility for Economic Development, he approached both the Chamber and the KBIA with the hope that they could work together somehow, and create a better environment for business in North Grenville.
He managed to get them to agree to share office space, something one would think would be a natural fit, and a positive move.
The agreement was announced, and Councillor Arnaud then made an approach to the NG Library Board to allow the Chamber and KBIA to share a space at the Library on Prescott Street. Once again, this seemed like a positive move on the part of Councillor Arnaud, and it took some convincing to get the Library Board to give up space which they planned to use themselves. But the initiative was finally approved by all. That is, until the Chamber Board then informed the other parties that they didn’t want to move into the Library, they wanted space in the Municipal Centre, where Big Brothers/Big Sisters now have offices.
Chamber members are raising concerns about the lack of services provided to them by the Board. At present, there is not even a web site operating for the Chamber. The only activities organised by the Board over the past year have been two lunches, which were addressed by a motivational speaker, and a Little black Dress event, which was advertised for women only. The event raised funds for the Chamber and the Kemptville District Hospital. It is difficult to know how it encouraged local businesses, however.
This whole issue underlines the need for some coherent plan for economic development in North Grenville. The BR+E section of the municipal government has concentrated on Kemptville and continues to organise gatherings where people can network and learn. But the KBIA have a report by a consultant hired to advise on future growth which states that the group must expand or perish. Expansion into the “Triangle” area formed by Rideau and Sanders is on the KBIA agenda, but the consultant’s report stated that only a Kemptville-wide expansion would give the organisation a solid foundation for future activities.
This raises an issue: what, then, is the mandate of the KBIA and how does it conflict, or mesh, with that of the Chamber? What, indeed, is the mandate of the Chamber itself? Does North Grenville need both? What Councillor Arnaud has been working towards, in trying to bring these two business groups together, is necessary and could lay the groundwork for future economic development. But all sides need to be willing to work together. The Chamber, the KBIA, as well as other business groups in North Grenville, need to work together as much as possible for the benefit of all. In the past, BIA’s and Chambers have come and gone in North Grenville: there is nothing inevitable about their survival. In the years when there was either no Chamber, or a non-active one, businesses did not seem to miss it.
There has to be a good reason for people to spend hard-earned money to join an organisation, whether it’s a Chamber of Commerce or a BIA: it has to be relevant, supportive of its members, and willing to work with others. It should supply something more business-friendly than little black dresses. Donovan Arnaud and the Economic Development Committee are trying to re-energise the business life of this community. They deserve time, encouragement and support in their work.