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  • Gayle Baker

Local Businesses as Positive Social Change Agents? Yes! Says our New Chamber

June 14

Eleven (including the fun addition of Jason’s young ones) joined us at this ASK Salt Spring gathering to welcome our Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce’s new Executive Director, Matthew Quetton, and new President, Jason Roy-Allen. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, Jason and Matthew told us a bit about themselves and what “excites and delights" them.


Jason began by telling us that, a new arrival to Salt Spring, he and his wife own Hen and Hound Farm (complete with farm stand and B&B), the Brasserie (the old Fernwood Café), and, most recently, the Feast (the old House Piccolo). An experienced startup entrepreneur, he places community - people living with people - high on his list of priorities. 


He is “excited and delighted” by the new direction the Chamber is taking, fueled by its new Directors, new values, and new ideas. Characterizing the former Chamber as struggling to find priorities and value to the business community, he believes it had been struggling largely due to its efforts to be everything for everyone. For Jason, the top priority for this new Chamber is the value it offers to its business members - the Salt Spring "Voice of Business,” for all businesses whether they are members or not.


To achieve this, a first and pivotal project of the Chamber has been to bring it into the 21st century by creating an extensive and inclusive online Directory of all Salt Spring businesses. Interestingly, we learned that there is currently no comprehensive list of businesses on Salt Spring. When this Directory is fully populated, not only will there be a single source of local business information, there will also be a rich database the Chamber can use to communicate with businesses and continually evaluate what they need and want.


With membership options designed for all sizes and needs - even a free option - the Chamber Board and staff hope all business on Salt Spring will soon register in their Directory. Interested? Visit: www.saltspringdirectory.com. All are welcome, with even ASK Salt Spring asked to join :)! Just launched this week, Matthew, Jason, and the entire Board are excited about this important new initiative - the first step toward better understanding and responding to our local businesses.


Matthew, came to Salt Spring two years ago. He was elected to the Chamber Board in September and, by spring, he had resigned from the Board to become its Executive Director. Agreeing with all Jason told us about the Chamber’s focus on supporting local business, Matthew added his perspective that business can be cultivated as a force for good, with a positive impact on social, economic, and environmental issues. He looks forward to the multiple conversations with members and community partners about how our local businesses can make that positive contribution to our community.


When the first participant spoke of her distress with a rundown, dangerous, inaccessible, and car-centric Ganges, Matthew responded by telling us of his hope that the Chamber will lead a collaborative partnership to support the beautification, cleanup, and revitalization of our main village. Noting that the Chamber has, over the years, embarked on a variety of one-off beautification projects, it is Matthew’s hope that the coordinated effort of local businesses and partners can finally begin to strategically and comprehensively address the needed-Ganges revitalization.


Both Matthew and Jason were clear that the Chamber would not be the sole organization doing all the work. Instead, Jason and Matthew see the Chamber’s role as convener and facilitator of the conversations that lead to action. They believe that key to making this happen is secure and ongoing funding for a focused entity, similar to, but likely somewhat different from, municipal Business Improvement Areas, BIAs: (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/local-governments/governance-powers/economic-development/municipal-business-promotion/business-improvement-areas). Our Chamber is committed to a “Made on Salt Spring” solution.


Along with Ganges improvement initiatives, the Chamber anticipates upcoming conversations would include both organizations from all sectors, and others that would be sector-specific. Made possible by the Chamber’s just launched online Directory, it will soon be easy to identify and convene sector-specific conversations. Both Matthew and Jason are excited about supporting sectors like the trades, wellness, restaurants, accommodations, retail, etc., many of which do not have sector-specific organizations. 


But,” said one participant, “convening, facilitating, and follow-up of multiple conversations takes a lot of time.” Can the Chamber manage all these conversions? Matthew’s response: “Not yet.” With the Chamber working its way out of a multi-year deficit, staffing currently includes only Matthew for three days a week and a marketing coordinator working 10 hours a week, leaving the Chamber understaffed. To do the task they have set out for themselves, Matthew estimates that staff resources would need to be expanded. Hoping not to depend only upon grants for this needed growth, the Chamber plans to enhance revenue-generating activities as well as pursuing multi-year contracts for operations, possibly with the Local Community Commission.


Matthew spoke briefly of the tension at times between what businesses are legally allowed to do and the needs of the community. He believes regular conversations with businesses will result in them embracing not only what they can and have to power to do, but what they might also do for the community. Not an overnight project, Matthew and Jason fully understand these concepts can only be embraced and expand from an established foundation of trust.


Seeing local businesses as key partners in social change for a better community, Matthew reminded us that this positive change, while good for Salt Spring, is also essential for the survival of our businesses. The challenges buffeting our businesses and community are significant and include across-the-board rising costs for staff, materials, space, inventory, shipping, taxes, and insurance, to name a few. When you add the difficulty attracting and retaining staff, attrition due to housing issues, and increasingly complex regulations, it is easy to understand why our businesses are struggling.


Did you know that a large number of our businesses are owned by boomers, many of whom are soon to retire? Matthew estimated that, in the next 10 years, many of our local businesses will have changed hands. In a time of undeniable challenge and rapid change, Matthew believes that action is needed now to avoid tough times getting any tougher.


The Chamber sees the answer as one of embracing the challenge with enthusiasm instead of fear, redesigning our approaches, and - most importantly - realizing that we are all in this together. While blame will get us nowhere, working together may allow us to become that small, rural economy that found the answers. 


One participant asked if that meant growth? Matthew replied that he believes that over 3,000 new residents will come to Salt Spring in the next 10 years. A participant asked if we could accommodate that much growth. Matthew reminded us that we are not facing shocking arrival of 3,000 additional folks all at once, but 300 people per year over the next decade, taking the place of those who leave or pass away. Who will move here, and where will they live? He believes that progress is not about unchecked growth but about designing the change and growth we need to revitalize our community, while providing the workers needed for a balanced community.


With a steady stream of newcomers expected, the Chamber sees one of its roles as welcoming and integrating new business owners and their families. As a newcomer himself, Matthew saw firsthand the barriers to acceptance on Salt Spring. He sees the Chamber’s Information Centre (known to most as the Visitors’ Centre) as valuable in connecting new residents to one another as well as connecting businesses and residents. He spoke glowingly about the volunteers there, over 40 strong, many of whom have been volunteering for over 20 years. Embracing their expanded mission of providing information and connections to our community, they are enthusiastic about collecting information about local businesses and eager to pass it on to visitors, locals, and new arrivals alike.


As our time together was drawing to a close, Matthew left us with a challenge: “How are we going to adapt our community to make space for the next generation?” How are we going to welcome our 25-30 year-olds to become leaders while we are still here? In Matthew’s opinion, this includes mentoring our rising young entrepreneurs, solidifying their future while solidifying the future of Salt Spring.


As it was 1:00 already, we all thanked Jason and Matthew for a multi-faced conversation of both practical solutions as well as social change philosophy, for their vision of a better Salt Spring, hard work, willingness to take risks, and enthusiasm seeking solutions. (Thank-you Matthew and Jason!


Please join us next Friday, June 14, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome two of your Local Community Commissioners (LCC), Chair Earl Rook and Electoral Director Gary Holman.


What would you like to ask them?

  • What do you hope to accomplish in 2024?

  • It has been nearly a year since you were sworn in June 20, 2023. During that year, what are the most significant LCC accomplishments?

  • What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the LCC?

  • Can you describe any changes in the scope of responsibility of the LCC that you would like to see by the end of your term, October 2026?

  • And?

Please join us to welcome Earl and Gary!


Just in case you are interested. . . .This report has been written by Gayle Baker, Ph. D., founder of ASK Salt Spring, currently also a Salt Spring Local Community Commissioner. This report has also been edited by this week’s special guest.


Want to help? We welcome volunteers to join the team.

Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings, and

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.


Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!

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