Home for the Holidays
Charla Robinson, President
Ready or not, holiday shopping season is here again. No matter how short or long your gift-giving list, there are many great reasons why you should do your shopping at home this year.
By shopping in Thunder Bay:
- You support local jobs, providing wages and benefits for workers in your community and creating opportunities for your friends and neighbours to find work;
- You generate taxes for your community, supporting local schools, parks and arenas, police and fire departments, and the roads and infrastructure that we all use each day; and,
- You help make our community unique, by supporting local restaurants and niche stores that add a distinctive Thunder Bay flavour to our city.
It is the businesses in Thunder Bay that support your child’s hockey team and donate time and money to help local charities meet their fundraising goals. I’ve never seen an article praising Costco or Menards for their donation to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation or United Way campaigns, but a scan of any local charity website provides a long list of the many local businesses who are helping their cause.
There may be some specialized items that require an out of town purchase as they just aren’t available through a local business or because the price difference is so significant that it just isn’t feasible to buy at home. In that case, I hope that you will give local businesses the opportunity to meet your needs before you rush off to spend your dollars in another city.
For many businesses, November and December sales form a significant portion of their annual revenues, without which they simply cannot survive. Shopping at home will help keep our business community strong.
On behalf of the Chamber’s Board of Directors and staff, best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful holiday and a very happy New Year.
The Importance of Process
Charla Robinson, President
As business owners and managers, we understand the importance of developing and following clear procedures in our work. These processes help us to collect revenues, pay our bills, hire and evaluate employees, and ensure quality products and services for our customers. Process is important and your Chamber has advocated for two specific processes this past month: setting minimum wage and positively handling status card transactions.
The current method for setting minimum wage is random at best, with no specific process or timeline in place to review and adjust the rate. The last increase to minimum wage occurred in March 2010 and no one knows when it will be adjusted in the future. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present to the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel to provide the local business perspective on this topic. Our view is that minimum wage should be set in a way that is fair, predictable and transparent. We believe that this can be achieved by tying minimum wage to inflation with an adjustment every 2 years. Such a process is fair in that it would ensure that employees are not subjected to long wage freezes and that businesses are not subjected to sudden, unplanned cost increases. It is predictable because it would provide time for businesses to plan for and adjust to the change within their operating budgets. It is transparent because a link to the inflation rate is clear and easily understood. The Panel is expected to submit its report to Government in December; we look forward to hearing their recommendations and will continue to work with our Ontario Chamber colleagues to advocate for business interests on this important issue.
In addition, the Chamber’s Aboriginal Opportunities Committee has launched a campaign that highlights the significant and growing contribution of the Aboriginal community to the local economy. The committee has distributed a “Status Cards Welcome” decal that shows Aboriginal customers that their patronage is appreciated and that staff has been trained in proper handling of status card transactions. I encourage all retailers to get behind this initiative, display the decals proudly on your door and sales registers, and ensure that every member of your staff knows how to efficiently and respectfully process status card purchases. Additional decals are available through the Chamber office.
On November 12, our Lunch and Learn seminar series will focus on “Stress in the workplace: the good, the bad and the ugly.” This 90 minute session, presented by Sebastien Laroque from Dr. Paul Johnston Psychological Services, will provide skills that will help you and your employees recognize and address the stress that arises in our daily work. That’s definitely an important process to learn! Seats are limited so register today.
A reminder that our final After Business of the year will be held on November 20th at the Slovak Legion and will feature some great gift and decorating ideas for the coming holiday season.
We are also pleased to announce a Leaders Luncheon on December 2nd with Nextbridge who will outline their plans to build the East-West energy tie that will connect the Northwest with electricity from Southern Ontario. We hope to see you there!
Kindling the Flame
Charla Robinson, President
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” These wise words from Socrates depict very well the world we live in: continuous learning is an absolute necessity for business people from all sectors due to the rapid change around us. Innovation drives us to find new ways to do our jobs, serve our customers, and communicate our message.
Your Chamber is here to help you and your employees in the constant search for knowledge and information to improve your business. October 8th is the first of our monthly Lunch and Learn Seminars sponsored by the CEDC Entrepreneur Centre. This month’s seminar topic is “Financing for Small Business” - the experts from the Entrepreneur Centre and RBC will provide valuable information on the myriad funding options available through subsidy programs, government grants, and corporate financing. In addition, October 31st provides a second chance for those who missed our “Media Relations 101” seminar in June. The session will once again be presented by MNP LLP and will provide the key do’s and don’ts of dealing with the media.
Your Chamber was an active participant in discussions with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa during their visit to the city at the beginning of September. We used the opportunity to explain our concerns with the current apprenticeship ratio system for training new skilled tradespeople. As we have highlighted repeatedly, Ontario’s apprenticeship system currently requires multiple journeymen to train a single apprentice whereas other Canadian resource based economies allow one journeyman to train multiple apprentices. Your Chamber is continuing our work with local trades-based businesses and educational institutions to develop a pilot project proposal that will assist Northern business in addressing the shortage of skilled trades through training. If you have ideas and insights that will help us in this project, please contact me to discuss.
We are also working to encourage local high school students to consider the skilled trades during their career planning deliberations. The Chamber’s Education Committee will be holding a “Pathway to a Career in the Trades” night on October 23rd at Superior Collegiate from 7pm to 9pm. The evening will feature success stories from local tradespersons and information on the process involved in becoming a trades apprentice. Bring your teenaged son or daughter to learn about the many trades career opportunities available.
Mark your calendars for Small Business Week, October 21 through 26th. PARO, SHIFT, BDC, the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre, Keynote Events, Thunder Bay Ventures, the CEDC Entrepreneur Centre, the Thunder Bay Public Library, and your Chamber will each be holding events that celebrate the contributions of small business to our community. These activities provide some great opportunities for learning and networking for you and your employees.
Skills Training on the Agenda
Charla Robinson, President
It is once again time to turn the page on the calendar: the kids are back to school and the relaxed moments of summer holidays are quickly morphing into the frenetic pace of September.
The planned quiet of July and August did not materialize at your Chamber: our summer included a very well attended luncheon event with newly minted FedNor Minister Greg Rickford, as well as private meetings with MPP Bill Mauro, and Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle. We appreciated the opportunity to sit down with these elected officials to discuss the Federal and Provincial issues that are a priority to our members.
We had an excellent discussion with Minister Rickford about his new role as FedNor Minister with responsibility for the Ring of Fire. We talked about the importance of the numerous mining opportunities around the region, including but not limited to the Ring of Fire, and the need for Federal training and infrastructure support to assist in their development. We are extremely encouraged by the recent Federal announcement of $5.9 million for the Ring of Fire Aboriginal Training Initiative. The key objective of this program is to provide training-to-employment opportunities in the mining sector for over 200 individuals from the Matawa First Nations.
On the Provincial agenda, we expressed our concerns about apprenticeship ratios and the limiting effect that these rules are having on our ability to train sufficient tradespeople to meet our growing workforce needs. We are currently working with local stakeholders to develop a pilot project for consideration by the Ontario government to address the challenges of the business community in training and retaining the skilled labour they need to help us take full advantage of mining and forestry opportunities as they develop.
Speaking of training, your Chamber is pleased to announce our new monthly Lunch & Learn Success Seminars that will provide timely and affordable professional development opportunities for you and your staff. The first 90-minute session entitled “Situation (IM)Possible: Dealing with Difficult People” will be held on Tuesday, October 8th with presenter Maggie Chicoine. Our thanks to our event partner the Thunder Bay Public Library for hosting us each month at the Mary JL Black Library.
September promises to be an exciting month at your Chamber. Don’t miss the Prosperity Northwest Business Forum & After Business on September 25 at the Valhalla Inn. We will also be participating in the Northwestern Ontario Regional Conference on September 26 & 27 and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting in Kelowna, BC from September 29 – October 1. September 30th is also the deadline for additional nominations to the Chamber Board of Directors. An insert is included in your member newsletter package for information.
The Bright Side
Charla Robinson, President
In this era of 24/7 information it can sometimes feel like nothing good is happening. In recent weeks we have witnessed the devastation in Alberta due to flooding and the incomprehensible damage resulting from the train derailment and explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec. Add to this demonstrations and rioting in both Turkey and Egypt, spending scandals in the Senate, as well as the daily ups and downs of global financial markets and one can easily become discouraged, even depressed, about the world that we live in.
It is especially important to seek out good news and positive stories to offset this daily flow of negativism. As British comedians Monty Python remind us in their satirical style, “Always look on the bright side of life.” With that in mind, I’d like to highlight some positive indicators that have come to my attention.
Thunder Bay Ventures recently released its 16th annual business opinion survey, which revealed a number of positive indicators: Fifty-one percent (51%) of respondents indicated that they plan to hire additional staff in the next 12 months; Seventy-four percent (74%) of respondents believe that the economy will have positive growth in the next year; and, Eighty-six percent (86%) of respondents feel secure about the sustainability of their business over the next three years.
This data reinforces the many positive comments that I hear from Chamber members who tell me their business is going well. There are always problem areas that can be improved; however, the general attitude in the business community seems to be positive. The City of Thunder Bay’s 2013 Citizen Satisfaction Survey results reflect a similarly positive attitude among city residents. Ninety-two percent (92%) of respondents rate the overall quality of life as very good or good.
Both of the above mentioned surveys also provide important feedback on areas that can be improved for business and residents alike. Our Policy and Advocacy committee will be reviewing those responses and will incorporate the issues raised into our advocacy plan for the coming months. While we must take the time to reflect on the positives there is always more work to do to make Thunder Bay the best it can be. Your Chamber is working on your behalf with that goal in mind.
The World is Run by Those Who Show Up
Charla Robinson, President
The above quote is a favourite of mine because I’ve seen its truth throughout my life. It is those individuals who participate in our community that make things happen – whether by helping a charity, attending local events, or supporting local businesses when making a purchase.
Your Chamber is full of many amazing business people who “show up” to make our community better. In the past few months, I have attended numerous meetings where the individuals around the table were engaged and enthusiastic to find solutions for the challenges we face. Whether the discussion is about ensuring our energy needs are met, supporting small business start-ups, enhancing cultural amenities, or changing apprenticeship ratios to address the shortage of skilled trades, our members are working to find answers.
One issue where the business community needs to “show up” and make our voice heard is local energy planning. The current uncertainty of our future energy supply is detrimental to business growth and must be addressed quickly. The Common Voice Northwest Energy Task Force is projecting demand of 1,600MW by 2016-17, due to expansion and growth of mining and forestry projects throughout the region. It is vital that the Government provide a plan to ensure that reliable energy is available to meet those demands.
The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) is holding consultations across Ontario in July to hear local concerns about energy issues. These consultations will form a new integrated regional energy planning process. I encourage every business owner, large or small, to take advantage of this opportunity to participate by providing your feedback through their online survey. I also want to thank the members of the Common Voice Northwest Energy Task Force for “showing up” and providing to the OPA and the Minister of Energy a detailed evaluation of our future energy needs and potential energy challenges.
In closing, our new Chamber Connect membership directory highlights some member businesses that are GameChangers in our community. I trust that their stories will inspire you to show up, speak out and make things better in your business, your life and your community. The world truly is run by those who show up.
The Power of Collaboration
Charla Robinson, President
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Throughout the past month, I have seen a few great examples of this powerful quote by Helen Keller in action.
At the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) Annual Meeting, Chair of the Board Ed Schmidtke and I witnessed the power of the Chamber Network in action as Chamber executives and volunteers from across the Province debated numerous policy issues including energy, skills training and apprenticeship reform, transportation, and debt reduction measures. Your local Chamber was successful in having two resolutions adopted
by the 136-member strong OCC and added amendments to an additional resolution to ensure that Northern concerns were addressed. The conference also included a very informative discussion panel on the challenges that must be addressed to ensure development of the Ring of Fire; and, an expert panel on energy issues that provided an opportunity to raise some of the frustrations with both transmission and generation infrastructure in Northwestern Ontario.
Another example of the value of working together is witnessed in the respect. campaign that reminds us of the importance of treating each other with dignity. The initiative began at Confederation College and has now grown to include dozens of organizations across the city. Your Chamber is committed to this campaign
and we encourage each and every Chamber member to make respect. a part of your business philosophy. A complementary campaign was launched on May 2nd by the Hate Crimes Awareness Committee with the message that "Hate divides a community. We’re better than this." It is inspiring to see people of all backgrounds coming together to make our community a kinder, safer, and more diverse place to live and work.
I was pleased to attend the annual meeting of the Lakehead Social Planning Council who are celebrating 50 years of service to our community. This organization truly exemplifies the value of working together and our city greatly benefits from their contribution.
June promises to be a very busy month as we count down to a more relaxed summer pace. Your Chamber has three excellent learning opportunities planned: Media Relations 101 on June 5th, Adopting the Megatrends in Computing and Communications on June 11th, and Facebook for Business on June 25th. These sessions are open to all Chamber members and employees and are an economical way to help you and your staff improve your skills. We are also looking forward to our next After Business on June 19th at Fort William Historical Park and a relaxing night at the Ballpark with our annual Chamber & SHIFT Bordercats night on June 20th. For full details on any of these activities check the Chamber website.
Let’s keep working together to make our business community the best it can be.
Plans & Projects
Charla Robinson, President
“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” Those words by Leo Tolstoy perfectly describe this wonderful season of the year. At the Chamber office, we are indeed busy with plans and projects as I begin my role as President. I am so looking forward to working with the Board, staff and membership towards the enhancement and fulfillment of our mission: “To influence effective change and foster an environment where business and the community can prosper.”
I have been involved with the Chamber for much of the past 18 years as an employee, a volunteer, and an event participant. My interest in government policy has continued to grow through my work experience on Parliament Hill, at Queen’s Park and, most recently, with the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. I firmly believe that good government policy is the grease that keeps the wheels of business turning smoothly. Alternatively, the lack of appropriate policy can bring growth and commerce to a grinding halt. The Chamber plays an important role in ensuring that the wheels keep turning.
The coming months will see the further development of the Chamber’s strategic plan by the Board of Directors. Your feedback on Chamber activities, programs and services is a vital part of this planning process and I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to complete our survey here. Survey respondents will be entered to win a one night stay in a Jacuzzi suite and breakfast for two from the Airlane Hotel & Conference Centre. The results of this survey will guide us in our planning to ensure that we are meeting your needs.
Our newest event, LifeFest takes place this weekend at the Lowery’s SportsDome. The expo will showcase lifestyle, health, wellness, fitness, nutrition and family focused opportunities that will inspire you to live better. The event also features a special evening with the Food Network’s Thirsty Traveler, Kevin Brauch, who will share travel stories and samples of his signature cocktails accompanied by specialties created by Thunder Bay’s top chefs.
Also this weekend, Chair of the Board Ed Schmidtke and I will join Chamber leaders from across the Province at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting in Chatham, Ontario. The event is an opportunity for members to learn from subject experts, debate policy resolutions and formulate the annual advocacy strategies of the Ontario Chamber. Thunder Bay has submitted two resolutions (link to webpage) for discussion and debate:
Resolution one advocates for changes to the Ontario Apprenticeship program to expand the number of apprentice positions in order to address the growing shortage of skilled workers, including a pilot project for Northern Ontario;
Resolution two recommends that the Government of Ontario repeal the growth limiting Far North Act and develop land planning processes for far north communities.
Spring is also a time for renewal. The Chamber staff will be participating in this year’s Eco-Superior “Spring Up to Clean Up” campaign, rolling up our sleeves to give our office neighbourhood a makeover. Making and keeping our community beautiful takes effort and I encourage all Chamber members to take a few minutes to grab a broom and a recycle bag to tidy up your corner of the city.
Good luck with your business plans and projects – happy Spring!