Bringing Back Zing to our Village: Meet our New Chamber Executives
After an acknowledgment of the Coast Salish people upon whose occupied land this meeting took place, the 10 individuals joining this ASK Salt Spring gathering welcomed special guests: our Chamber’s new Executive Director, Jesse Brown, and President, Darryl Martin. At 11:00 the twelve of us launched into a varied and rich conversation.
Darryl began by thanking ASK Salt Spring for the opportunity to join this gathering along with Jesse Brown, the Chamber’s newly hired Executive Director. He continued by acknowledging the damaging economic and social realities impacting Chamber businesses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Darryl identified three priorities of the Salt Spring’s Chamber of Commerce:
Helping local enterprises address the impacts of COVID-19 shutdowns.
Improving the vibe of Ganges and working towards the extension of the Harbourwalk.
Revitalizing the Salt Spring Island Visitors’ Centre.
We learned that these priorities were only a beginning and that he welcomed suggestions on other priorities upon which the Chamber should focus.
Before turning attention to Jesse Brown, Darryl also reminded us that Salt Spring’s Chamber of Commerce members are the individuals, shopkeepers, food growers, restauranteurs and artisans who provide the services upon which we depend. They fuel Salt Spring’s economy and are our neighbors and our friends.
Jesse shared his excitement to be joining the Chamber as their new executive director and told us of his deep roots on Salt Spring Island. He expressed his delight to have the opportunity to share his expertise as a not-for-profit and small business professional with the members of the Chamber and community, assisting with the recovery effort.
The first question focused on inadequate parking in Ganges and its impact on the Saturday Market. Like so many Salt Spring issues, responsibility for parking rests with multiple organizations. We learned that much of the parking in Ganges is privately-owned and that the majority of the publicly-owned parking is under the control of the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI).
It was suggested by a participant that providing more parking may not be the answer. Another suggested, instead, focusing efforts on Active Transportation. Can we make it easier for locals to walk and or cycle to Ganges? What about at least promoting the Arrive in Five concept - parking five minutes from ones’ destination?
How can we encourage visitors to leave their cars at home? We learned that BC Transit is currently conducting an analysis of the bus system on Salt Spring Island. In early April of this year, Islanders will be invited to complete a survey to guide these recommendations. Spanning a full month, all islanders will have the opportunity to complete this survey. They will be guided to the link by a postcard mailed to them as well as media announcements. During this survey period, the BC Transit manager will be ASK Salt Spring’s special guest: Friday, April 23 from 11-1. This BC Transit report is expected to be completed this summer and presented to the Transportation Commission for its implementation recommendations.
Should we try a Saturday Market shuttle again? It was also suggested that rideshare companies, such as Lyft and Uber, should be considered to improve the accessibility of vehicle transportation. This option could also provide local employment opportunities. Our Chamber of Commerce guests listened with interest to the many items suggested by ASK Salt Spring participants.
The conversation naturally transitioned to needs for a more accessible and walkable Ganges. This is a complex issue that involves both private and MoTI property. It is likely that the Transportation Commission will soon embark on an Active Transportation Plan to guide Commissioners toward needed improvements to Ganges walkability. It is expected that this plan will identify needed safety and walkability improvements.
It is also expected that this Active Transportation Plan will supplement the Islands Trust Ganges Village Plan. The Chamber of Commerce is a committed participant of the Islands Trust Ganges Village Plan. President Darryl told us that this process is expected to last two years and will require sessions once per month. Some of the participants who were familiar with a previous Ganges Village Plan questioned why the proposed one would be better. We learned that the current planning process commits to analyzing past plans, removing hurdles to implementation, and crafting the regulatory structure needed for real change.
As an immediate action to bring back our village’s vim and vigour, the Chamber is considering the creation of a Ganges Improvement Team to make Ganges more welcoming.The Chamber is committed to a more vibrant and welcoming Ganges village and a priority will be working to extend and beautify the existing Harbourwalk.
Our Chamber guests were asked about the new funding available with our long-awaited rural designation through the Island Coastal Economic Trust(ICET): https://www.islandcoastaltrust.ca. This week, Jesse attended a group convened by Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) of the CRD to discuss this new ICET funding as well as upcoming grant opportunities from other sources.
There was a robust conversation surrounding the opportunity that Salt Spring’s new rural funding may provide. Thanks were extended to the CEDC for their many years of advocacy that resulted in our rural designation. Always working to improve the economic outlook and business opportunities for Salt Spring Islanders, Darryl and Jesse were interested in collaborating on ICET and other funding opportunities, reminding us that the Chamber serves the whole business community regardless of membership.
The conversation shifted to housing and our local businesses’ need for workers. The housing shortage on Salt Spring Island was identified as a problem for the successful recruitment of qualified workers for government and business positions. The Chamber is actively working on this issue with many community partners.
One participant suggested that training and education may be a part of the solution: Why not better prepare those who are already here, especially our graduates who may have to leave Salt Spring for jobs and further education? While hiring staff for our businesses is important, it is only the first step: workers need additional education to prepare them for promotion to Salt Spring’s future business leadership roles. With succession planning and on-Island training opportunities, this participant believes that Salt Spring can have the homegrown leaders it needs to guide us toward a vibrant future. The Chamber expressed its commitment to encourage future generations of business and community leaders on Salt Spring Island.
Darryl and Jesse were asked whether there was a role for the Chamber in determining the future uses of the Middle School. Focused on helping those who are here as well as attracting visitors during our off seasons, Jesse replied that some very preliminary conversations point toward a community education centre.
As 1:00 approached, Jesse relayed to the audience the many informative and important items suggested throughout the conversation that the Chamber of Commerce should address. Most participants seemed impressed that so many topics were covered in just two hours. Jesse indicated that he looks forward to working with community members and meeting the needs of the small businesses on Salt Spring.
As we prepared to press our Leave Meeting button, we sincerely thanked Darryl and Jesse for joining us and sharing their enthusiasm for vibrant businesses and a village with a recaptured zing. When asked what we can all do to support the local economy, their clear message was: Break the addiction to online shopping and buy, buy, buy right here on Salt Spring Island!
Please join us next Friday, March 5, from 1:00 - 2:30 (adjusted time - this week only!!) to welcome our MLA Adam Olsen. With the Legislature now in session, he will share his excitement and concerns about bills and budget.
Bring your questions, eagerness to learn, and enthusiasm to participate in a discussion of the issues that matter most to us.
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