Events and Programming Contribute to Downtown Vitality

November 29, 2017

On the last Friday of every year the community of Summerland hosts the Okanagan’s premier kick off to the Christmas season.  November 24, 2017 marked 30 years for the annual Festival of Lights and it was a spectacular success.

Elsewhere in North America the last Friday of November is widely known as Black Friday – the most popular discount shopping day of the year.  And while you may also see great deals at local merchants, Summerland isn’t generally going head to head with national chains.

Summerland merchants win and keep their customers through offering beautiful and unique products in a boutique environment in our charming downtown.  They do it with terrific service and a delightful shopping experience.  They know many of their customers personally and they are difference makers in our community.

Over the past few years we’ve seen how these merchants have taken over our downtown streets.  Stores are filled with designer fashions, gifts and collectibles, antiques, craft and hobby supplies, jewellery, and the most delicious food.  So filled in fact, that there is only one empty downtown building still available for a new storefront to open.

American speaker Roger Brooks is well known in Canada and the US for his work in downtown revitalization in communities large and small.  He has found that there is a 10/10/10 rule that operates in successful downtowns.  You need to have at least 10 boutiques, 10 eateries, and 10 places open in the evening to create a thriving and active environment. Downtown associations and groups like Chambers of Commerce can support their merchants by animating those downtown spaces with activity that brings people.  Events are one option for this, and very large events, like Light Up, are especially useful for introducing new visitors to town for a once-a-year experience.

However, Brooks has found that real vitality comes to a downtown when programming or activity happens at least 200 days/year.  This has been proven, even in colder Canadian communities where you would think winter temperatures might get in the way.

So that’s our next goal here at the Summerland Chamber.  The Chamber’s new Downtown Revitalization Task Force will be addressing this for 2018.  Come and see what we dream up.

Christine Petkau is Executive Director of the Summerland Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Summerland. She can be reached at cpetkau@summerlandchamber.com.


Summerland Chamber of Commerce Creates Task Forces

October 30, 2017

The Summerland Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted this month to create three task forces to address three key issues of importance to chamber and community members.  These task forces will focus on Housing, Downtown Revitalization and Tourism.

Summerland Chamber President Erick Thompson says “housing and downtown revitalization are both issues that have been raised by our business members as keys to success in Summerland.  The task forces were created to address each of these areas. Task force members will be focusing on a limited number of key projects that they can take action on and see through to completion.  The projects will be determined by each group during their initial meetings.  The task forces efforts will compliment the work of the District of Summerland, which is creating in-depth studies of these areas.”

“The tourism task force will be charged with developing the strategic plan for tourism for the next few years,” says Thompson. “This group was last active during the tourism branding project in 2012/2013 and is comprised of a cross-section of chamber members in all areas of the tourism sector.”

The task forces will be chaired by Chamber Board Directors as follows: Housing – Erick Thompson, et2media; Downtown Revitalization – Keri Harding, RSD Premium Apparel; Tourism – Marion Christian, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.  Task force participation will be at the invitation of the Chairs.

As part of their work in tourism, Summerland Chamber staff are currently planning the 30th Anniversary of the Festival of Lights, to be held Friday, November 24th.  Each year the festival attracts more than 7,000 guests from around the Okanagan region, lower Mainland and the Washington interior.  The festival features live entertainment from the Main Stage as well as a brand new Children’s stage, ice carvings, fireworks, numerous children’s activities, visits with Santa and terrific food.  All activities are free for visitors.

Spend the whole weekend in Summerland.  In honour of the 30th anniversary, the Kettle Valley Steam Railway will be running two special ‘Fall Festive Trains’ on Saturday, November 25th.  The annual Light Up the Vines event is also taking place November 25-26 at the 23 member winery and craft beverage producers of the Bottleneck Drive Association.  Visit Summerlandlightup.com for information on all these events and where to spend the night.  Summerland is the place to be from November 24-26th.

Christine Petkau is Executive Director of the Summerland Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Summerland. She can be reached at cpetkau@summerlandchamber.com.


BC Chambers Executive Conference Displays Talent

October 11, 2017

At a recent event, a community member asked me if my job was full-time. They were surprised that, in Summerland, we have 700 Chamber members and via a contract with the District of Summerland, are also responsible for tourism and various economic development activities.

This isn’t unusual. Throughout BC, there are many Chambers that are responsible, not only for their business membership, but also for their local Visitor Centre, the Destination Management Organization, or both.

And in 2016, a BC Economic Development Survey indicated that a majority of Chambers in BC communities under 50,000 in population also have some or all of the responsibilities for their community’s economic development portfolio.

The diversity and skill set of senior Chamber staff was really brought home to me at this year’s BC Chambers Executive Conference held in Invermere a few weeks ago. Hosted by the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce at the stunning Copper Point Resort, the conference is an annual reminder of the depth of talent amongst the group I am privileged to call my colleagues.

Throughout our days together, the conversation, both in workshops and during social events, was about improving the environment in our province and country for our business members.

We discussed advocacy issues, such as the proposed recent federal tax changes, excellence in governance, best practices in financial reporting and stewardship, media relations, creative ideas for member services and engagement and how to #makepolicysexy.

Some of the Executive Directors in attendance were travelling on to federal policy sessions at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Convention in Halifax where they will continue to advocate for businesses and our colleague from the Langley Chamber had been nominated for a national award.

And our colleague from the Whistler Chamber was travelling on to Sydney, Australia as one of only a handful of nominees in the world for an innovation award at the World Chambers Congress.

Chambers of Commerce in BC and throughout the country are an amazing network with their fingers on the pulse of what is happening in our communities and in our province. At your next Chamber event, give your Chamber Executive Director a high five – they’ll appreciate it.

Christine Petkau is Executive Director of the Summerland Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Summerland. The Chamber is also responsible for business retention, expansion and attraction (economic development services) on behalf of the District of Summerland.


Summerland Businesses Discuss Housing Shortage

August 9, 2017

Last week, a number of Summerland Chamber business members along with our largest community partners, met with the team from Cherie Enns Consulting to discuss affordable housing in Summerland. The consulting firm has recently been hired by the District of Summerland to conduct a housing study in our community.

Housing challenges have long been a hot point in Summerland and were raised repeatedly in the Business Walks the Chamber and District conducted in October of 2016.  The consulting firm was interested in engaging with our business members as key stakeholders in employment, development and sustainability of our community.

The discussion was excellent and covered why the issue is so important to local businesses and what opportunities we might have for innovative solutions.

Affordable housing and economic development certainly go hand in hand.  The group recognized that in recent years, manufacturers have struggled to retain staff due to lack of reasonably priced housing, hospitality employers struggle to find staff that can afford to live in the community throughout an expanded tourism season,  and young families have been prevented from moving to the community because they can’t find an affordable home.  A lack of young families has had a domino effect in that one elementary school was in danger of closing because of reduced enrollment.

It’s clear that this issue is having a real impact on the local workforce.

The group also made suggestions of what types of housing options are most needed.  In the spectrum of affordability, the most pressing needs expressed focused on rental units and entry level home ownership that could be achieved on a manufacturing wage.  Suggestions for entry level  home ownership included modest town homes, micro homes  and even floating homes that could be developed in a marina type environment.

Creativity will be required to address our community’s housing needs and this report will be an excellent step toward measuring and addressing the challenge.


Christine Petkau is Executive Director of the Summerland Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Summerland. The Chamber is also responsible for business retention, expansion and attraction (economic development services) on behalf of the District of Summerland.


Agricultural Innovation Centre in Summerland One Step Closer to Reality

July 7, 2017

As part of the sector development work the Summerland Chamber of Commerce is involved in with the District of Summerland and the South Okanagan Similkameen Economic Development group (SOSED), we have been exploring the agricultural technology sector for several years.

Last October, an investment attraction strategy report completed for SOSED identified value added agriculture and agri-tech as the key sectors where our region should focus as well the areas within this where the South Okanagan has a competitive advantage.

In January, with funding support from the Rural Dividend Fund and the District of Summerland, the Chamber contracted researcher Jane Campardo of Engage Business and People Solutions to complete a feasibility study for the creation of an Okanagan Agricultural Innovation Centre.

Completed in late June, the scope of the study was to determine if there is a need for an agricultural innovation centre in the Okanagan, to study best practices from other similar facilities in BC, Canada and internationally, and if feasible,  to explore locations, potential structure, participants and preliminary costs.

As part of the study, Campardo conducted in-depth interviews with more than 100 industry people, organizations and stakeholders and held 2 regional focus groups where an additional 30 people participated.

Participants and interviewees were overwhelmingly supportive of having a Centre created in the Okanagan with 90% of those respondents supporting the Centre being located in Summerland.

They identified problems and opportunities throughout the ag value chain and created a list of must- haves for the Centre.  These consultations also identified that the overall objective of the Centre is to drive innovation, economic development and job creation in the Okanagan by supporting entrepreneurs and companies in the agricultural tech and value added agricultural industry.

Summerland was identified as the best location for the Centre due to its history in agriculture, the presence of the federal government’s Summerland Research and Development Centre in the community, and its central location in the heart of the Okanagan growing region.  As well, over the years, world renowned food based bio-technology companies have begun as research projects at SRDC and then commercialized, grown and remained in Summerland.

The next phase in the process is the creation of a detailed business plan and additional consultation.

Planning is beginning for this.  The future is exciting.

Christine Petkau is Executive Director of the Summerland Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Summerland. The Chamber is also responsible for business retention, expansion and attraction (economic development services) on behalf of the District of Summerland.


Businesses gain help in navigating the export market

June 6, 2017

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to one of our Summerland business members about their experiences attending an international trade show with the goal of exporting their locally made products. The words exhilarating and frustrating probably summed it up best.

For BC businesses, export opportunities are tremendous but navigating the maze of bureaucracy and regulation to get their products and services to markets (either to another country or sometimes even to another province) can be daunting.

In the past couple of years the Province of BC has been listening to and working with small business to learn more about their export needs.  Like our local business member, they’ve identified the confusing export landscape, limited awareness of the existing supports and service gaps as some of the challenges.

BC businesses said they needed easy to access, tailored services for business needs, a logical plan of action that could be followed for exporting, and support across the entire export pathway.

To respond to these needs Small Business BC has created a pilot project called The Export Navigator Pilot. In the Okanagan region this service is being delivered by Business Service Advisors based at Community Futures North Okanagan in Vernon.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop about the pilot hosted at Community Futures South Okanagan Similkameen in Penticton. One of the Advisors, Connie Viszlai, from the Vernon office, explained how the program works. With support from her or other Advisors, a small business can work their way through four specific stages for the best chances of export success.  These stages are called the Export Pathway.

In the first stage, Awareness, a business will go through a guided assessment to determine if they are ready to export, build an international network and complete a business plan or business expansion plan.  In stage 2, Planning and Validation, a business will identify their market and develop export, financial and operational plans to support their export strategy.  Stage 3 is the Initial Market Entry and Stage 4 is Market Development and Growth.

The best part is that businesses can determine where they already are on the pathway and enter at the point that makes sense for them.  As well, the Business Advisors work with international experts located in the various markets.  They know who a small business needs to be connected to at any particular stage on the pathway and can make the appropriate referrals so a business can succeed.

I am looking forward to seeing how this pilot will help our business members who are interested in export.  For more information contact Connie Viszlai in the Community Futures North Okanagan (Vernon) office at connive@futuresbc.com.


Small and mid-sized businesses to benefit from SIDIT’s Business Advisory Services

May 5, 2017

In March I had the opportunity to meet Luanne Chore, Executive Director of SIDIT – the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust. The Trust operates in the Southern Interior region of the province and the goal of the Trust (and their various programs) is to help grow and diversify the economy of the Southern Interior of British Columbia through economic development initiatives in 10 key sectors.

In September of 2016, SIDIT launched an innovative new program called Business Advisory Services and in April I was able to meet with the program manager, Ginny Becker.

Ginny explained that through the program, SIDIT is giving small and mid-sized businesses located in the Southern Interior region the levels of business competence, confidence and contacts needed to accelerate growth. SIDIT recognizes that, whether a newer or more established business, running a company can be a lonely experience where you often wish you had some expert advice available.

The Business Advisory Service has a group of professional business advisors available to help. These advisors have run businesses themselves so they know all the potential pitfalls. Business owners participating in the program will be able to access advisors in a variety of areas such as finance, operations, HR, scalability and more.

The program isn’t free, however the fees are subsidized by SIDIT from what a businessperson would normally have to pay for in-depth, one-on-one, professional advice. And judging from the case studies that are available to read on the website, entrepreneurs are finding great value from their investment in the services.

We will be sharing more about SIDIT’s Business Advisory Services with our Chamber members and would encourage other Chambers to do this as well. Find more information about the program and read their case studies at: siditbas.com.