‘My Year as Chairman of the MCC’,

MCC AGM May 3, 2008

It has been a privilege to serve the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce as its Chairman over this past year. I have learned so much about this great province of Manitoba and had the opportunity to visit so many different communities. It really was in keeping with the ‘Have’ Province initiative this year, which was about consultation, getting the message out and getting out and hearing from communities what their priorities are.

We really heard those priorities. I believe and I am very confident that those ideas, those dreams, those visions, will be incorporated into chamber policy in the years ahead.

I wanted to take you on just a bit of a world-wind tour of my year with the chamber and some of the chambers I visited because I heard so many wonderful things and great stories and great challenges that we need to confront.

I will begin with Altona, it wasn’t the first place I went to but I will begin with it as it begins with ‘a’.

I found in Altona there are great things going on, as there are in many parts of southern Manitoba. There was a real focus on immigration and the need for infrastructure that supports immigration. What we have now really isn’t what’s needed to support immigration of 11,000 that is moving to 20,000. We’re really only designed for 3,000 to 4,000 a year.

In Arborg there was just remarkable growth in the light manufacturing sector – small companies that are doing niche products that are being exported right around the world. It’s really remarkable. But they had some particular needs about infrastructure – roads that need to be upgraded.

Similarly, they also had needs and were looking to some of the models in the south to develop an immigration policy.

Great optimism in the area and I sense that things were really on the move.     

And if you are ever in Arborg you have got to go to Zan’s Family Inn. You get perogies and the best borsch you will find in the province. I took our president there and he had chicken fingers. Graham is not known for his high end culinary range.

The Assiniboia Chamber is looking at leveraging what is gong on at the James Richardson Airport and the idea that Winnipeg and area are becoming a hub of transportation.

Boissevain, there was a great focus on the need for skilled labour. We were privileged to provide a chamber excellence award and had a great lunch there.

In Brandon, things are booming. We heard housing is a great need and immigration is a focus for them as well.

Carberry sees opportunities to attract travelers en route along Highway 1 and is calling for better highway signage to draw people into the community.

In Eriksdale, where I spent a wonderful evening and a couple of afternoons, residents talk about the economy being on a real roll and people have jobs and there is a critical need for better daycare services to allow parents to more fully participate in local economic activity. Apprenticeships were also very important.

In Gimli the focus was on housing. We heard that housing was a constant theme throughout all areas of Manitoba.

Killarney’s natural beauty led residents to see opportunities in tourism. The community leadership also looked to the green economy and wind power as a potential competitive advantage. The marketing campaign that Killarney has undertaken is quite remarkable.

In Morden there was the issue of skills shortages, the need for immigration and keeping young people engaged, employed and wanting to remain in the community.

In Neepawa the issues were in housing and immigration with the growth of Hytek.

In Portage la Prairie we talked a lot about the need for strategic planning in the community and discussed chamber sustainability.

Plum Coulee was one of the friendliest places I travelled to. I had a great night in Plum Coulee. I drove down on this perfect winter evening, the sun was setting and the moon was coming up on the other side of the sky – it was the night of the eclipse – it was absolutely fabulous. As I got in the mayor was carving roast beef for the dinner and he pulled off his glove and shook my hand and went back to his carving.

I learned about geocashing, I am not going to go into any detail about it now, but it is a huge opportunity to draw people to your communities and if you don’t know about geocashing I strongly recommend that you check it out.

In Russell, there are a lot of exciting things happening and the focus again was labour issues.

In Selkirk there is a focus on the need for shared vision, getting the community working together and again, labour issues.

In Stonewall there was desire to attract more businesses.

In Winnipeg, skills development is top of the list. And the Winnipeg Chamber has been doing a great job of making Winnipeg one of the most business friendly cities in Canada.

In Winkler it is about business retention. There is really innovative stuff happening there when it comes to business retention and expansion. 

Those are some of the communities I visited and just some of the themes that came up that will be reflected in the planning of the Manitoba Chambers in the years coming up. Still to come I have schedule visits in St. Laurent, Niverville, and I am going to make it to the North very soon.

It has just been terrific for me. I have enjoyed it. As a relatively new Manitoban – I can’t say that for too much longer, I have been here for four years – it was a tremendous experience for me. The striking aspect of each of these stories in these communities is that without fail each community had a vision for the future and while some were further along than others in terms of their strategic and operational planning, all were able to describe dreams and aspirations and that’s the most exciting thing, that creativity and energy, and that’s what the ‘Have’ Province initiative is really all about. It’s about communities coming together to focus on achieving their dreams.

Along with this Have Province consultation travel, I am happy to report that the Chamber moved forward in other important areas:

  • Our Website grew to include multimedia features that allow members from across the province to stay connected with MCC initiatives,
  • 2007 corporate new membership growth was the strongest we have seen for a number of years and strong growth continues over the first few months of 2008,
  • We continue to build relationships with the non-profit and social justice sector.

It has been a privilege and an honor for me to serve the Manitoba Chambers over the past year. My sincere thanks go to the members of the Manitoba Chambers Board of Directors for their support. Thanks to the hard-working staff at the Manitoba Chambers under the leadership of Graham Starmer. Finally, thank you to the many Chambers across this province who opened the doors to their communities to share their stories of success.

To the new Chairperson: To thee from failing hands I pass the torch, be yours to hold it high!