“Does anyone here have any idea when the Chamber of Commerce was originally established?”
That was the question chamber boss Tom Thomson put to those gathered for Thursday evening’s Business after Business event, which attracted approximately 100 people. And though there were a few shouted responses— “1901! 1905!”— none were correct.
The right answer: 1893. That was when the South Kootenay Board of Trade was first established, four years before the City of Nelson was incorporated.
Thomson has a signed document in his office with the original 26 businessmen (yes, they were all men) who signed the documents, and notes the original impetus was “they weren’t being treated fairly by the government.”
And that tells you a lot about Nelson, according to him.
“At one point people were telling us ‘watch out, you’ll become another ghost town.’ We’ve gone through challenging times in the past, but there is a huge entrepreneurial spirit here. We went through a big revitalization in the ‘80s, and we’re due for another one right now.”
Currently the chamber has 530 members, a number they’re proud of, and “1,500-plus” small business licenses are held in town. But that doesn’t mean the business community is resting on its laurels — instead they’re always looking for ways to grow.
And part of that is teaming up with organizations like the Columbia Basin Trust, whose board met in Nelson over the weekend.
Thomson invited newly elected-chair Rick Jensen to address the crowd.
“I will try to excite you with what’s ahead,” Jensen said. “We have a large increase in funds and we have mandates from communities throughout the Basin. One is economic development and another is job creation. We’ll be looking at how we can help with that.”
Jensen said they have a “dynamic board” that includes former Nelson mayor John Dooley and “the will to create new things that will benefit everyone.”
Also appearing that night was Jonathan Buttle of the Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute, who presented the results of a business retention and expansion report.
The report was completed after surveying 127 local businesses. They discovered, for instance, that 51 per cent of local businesses plan to expand within the next three years, with 87 per cent of their investments earmarked for the local market.
Part of the report pertained to Nelson’s current goal to become an Intelligent Community, a designation that would improve Nelson’s competitiveness in the digital economy. There is an upcoming strategic workshop set for Feb. 23, and to learn more you can visit intelligentnelson.com
“Things change so quickly. People aren’t doing business the same way they were doing it 20 years ago. Even 20 months ago! That’s why were wanted to get a pulse of the community,” said Thomson.
And Buttle said the results are heartening.
“It’s pretty impressive to see 41 per cent of businesses have been operating more than 20 years, and one third less than 10 years, which seems to be a nice mix,” said Buttle.
“People aren’t afraid to open businesses and we’re stable enough here to support businesses in the long run.”