About a dozen people, mostly Virden business owners, heard from the President of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, Chuck Davidson Monday evening, April 22. He told the gathering, “The chamber network within Manitoba has never been stronger.” He also explained why a healthy community chamber of commerce is vital - here and now.
Davidson was one of three speakers brought to the Virden community by Virden Community Chamber of Commerce.
MP for Brandon-Souris Larry Maguire as well as the creator of Brandon’s first Escape Room Michelle Budiwski also spoke to the gathering in Sacred Heart Parish Hall.
Maguire focused on the agricultural question of the day - what is being done through non-partisan means to resolve the shut-out of Canadian canola to its largest export nation of China.
Budiwski spoke specifically of her own business journey both in small towns and in Brandon.
She said, “In small towns, new ideas don’t always go over so well.” She referred to the old boy’s club, but adds that women can be just as bad. “That needs to stop. That hurts us all.” Sharing a regional vision, she said, “What Virden does is going to affect Hamiota. What we do in downtown Brandon is going to affect all of us.”
Davidson on Manitoba Chambers
Chuck Davidson used Manitoba’s growing tourism industry and newly released provincial tourism plan as an example of what the business community through the MCC, can achieve. He explained what ongoing action chambers can take.
“When I took on this role five years ago, one of the things that I quickly identified was the importance of tourism… not only to every community in the province, but to the provincial economy itself.”
Davidson said that while tourism has generated some $250 million in yearly tax revenue for Manitoba, yet, he said, “This is an industry that the provincial government had kind of taken for granted.”
Five years ago, the amount the government was investing into Manitoba tourism and its promotion was $7 million, a number that hadn’t changed in 20 years.
When the MCC presented a specific new Manitoba tourism marketing idea to the government, the response was positive and they adopted the idea into the next budget, resulting in an $11 million Provincial investment into tourism.
Davidson says tourism has really taken off and now, according to travel guidebook Lonely Planet, “Manitoba is now regarded as one of the top-10 places to come to, in the world.
With a provincial marketing plan in place, there’s a need for work at the local level.
“We need a strategy. We’ve gone around the province, we’ve talked to stake holders, we’ve connected through chambers to make sure that they are connected with a larger tourism strategy.”
A regional approach is key. “We’re getting away from having a chamber in every little community. There’s always a tipping point in a chamber,” he says, and points to the importance of being big enough to hire a chamber manager to handle financial records and communication.
MCC is prepared to help at the local level. He explains that the Manitoba Chambers organization has a broad view of how chambers within the province are functioning. “We’re not here to tell you how to run your chambers. But, if you need help, if you need a resource to talk to about these things, we’re here to talk to.”
President of the VCCC Carla McLean thanked the presenters and closed the formal session saying, “We can make a difference in our community, if we chose to.”
In an interview, she said, “We want this community to thrive and we need to help our business community to thrive, grow and change.”
Asked about plans to rebuild a flagging membership, McLean responded, “I’m not going to speak on behalf of the board. We always like to have a roundtable discussion on where we’re going….”
Asked about the assistance that the MCC organization could provide to Virden, McLean said,
“We’ll definitely go to them for anything we need help with. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”