Though the Estevan Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting underwent a change in format, just as the Chamber itself will experience a change in 2015, the meeting, held at the TS&M Woodlawn Golf Club, provided a look back and a look forward for the local institution.
On the personnel side, executive director Michel Cyrenne left his position last summer to pursue other opportunities, and an incoming replacement has yet to be found. Outgoing President Ken Rowan said they expect to announce a new executive director shortly.
“We’re very, very close,” said Rowan, who said their goal was to have someone in place by September 2014.
The biggest reason for the delay was the changing mandate for the Chamber. Previously contracted to handle economic development and tourism duties for the City of Estevan, it was determined that contract would end, and the City would take back those responsibilities. That changed who the Chamber was looking for, in terms of a replacement, from someone with an economic development background to someone with experience with a more traditional Chamber role. The shifting of economic development is expected to be complete by the end of 2015.
“The City has told us they would be pulling the economic development and tourism back into the City, so we expect the transition, we just haven’t nailed that down yet,” Rowan said about timelines.
Whether they are directly organizing initiatives around economic development or not, Rowan noted the Chamber does share an interest in the results of those initiatives.
“Our vested interest would be questioning, based on their strategic plan and making sure the economic development plan moves forward,” he said.
The Chamber was also in charge of handling the economic development portfolio for the RM of Estevan, and Rowan said it’s unclear at this point if that will continue.
With the change in overall responsibilities, incoming President Nathan Wilhelm said it will provide an opportunity to focus on advocacy.
“At the municipal, provincial, federal levels, we want to make sure our members’ questions are being answered,” said Wilhelm.
The change means big things for the funding the Chamber receives as well. The Chamber received $250,000 last year as a grant from the City of Estevan. When the transition is complete, they won’t see any of those funds.
Both Rowan and Wilhelm said they’re hopeful an amicable relationship can be maintained between the Chamber and the City.
“Hopefully there’s no damage between us and the City,” said Rowan.
“The last thing is to make sure that we keep our relationship with the RM and the City of Estevan. There are going to be some differences that come up through the year here, but we want to make sure we’re proactive in making sure that relationship is still moving along,” said Wilhelm.
“(This) will be an exciting year, with a new director coming into the position,” added Wilhelm. “We’re going to put some new strategy planning in place, setting some goals for the Chamber. The last one that was in place is up for renewal.”
He said they want to have a “big” membership drive in 2015, to ensure the businesses in Estevan are accessing all that membership provides.
While the drop in oil prices has put some of Estevan’s strong economic environment into question, Wilhelm said it’s important to celebrate the business successes in the city.
“Business right now is, sort of, doom and gloom. Everything’s tightened up, but we’re still going ahead with our EBEX (Estevan Business Excellence) awards this year and making sure we can celebrate the success of local business,” he said.
The Chamber of Commerce ended 2014 with a $23,339 surplus, driven by two events in particular, said Byron Mack, of MNP. Beach Bash generated about $15,000, and the inaugural Energy Expo brought in an additional $27,000.
Rowan said there are still sponsorship opportunities available for the EBEX Awards event scheduled for June 5.