The Diversity of Focus in Small Regional Chambers 

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce (CVCC) is located in Invermere BC, however it serves many smaller communities throughout the “Columbia Valley” region (including but not limited to Radium Hot Springs, Fairmont Hot Springs, Canal Flats, Edgewater and Windermere).  The region boasts a population of approximately 12,000 full time residents, and an impressive number of part-time residents (approximately 4000 residences in the valley are second homes) as it is a popular vacation spot for Alberta residents being only three hours from Calgary.  The CVCC membership base generally hovers between 325 to 350 members, which includes a diverse mix of businesses and non-profit organizations. 

Businesses in the region must be resilient and diverse to withstand the unique and seasonal demands of this environment – the Chamber of Commerce representing them must be equally so.  Particular challenges posed to the Columbia Valley include maintaining robust Economic Development in the region, Physician Recruitment, and unsurprisingly, Housing.  The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce is working in each of these areas to facilitate education, growth and to maintain a positive presence in their communities.  

Economic development is a nebulous term that can refer to many facets of community growth. The Columbia Valley is an easy place to love, but not necessarily always an easy place to live.  The CVCC is dedicated to increasing the opportunities of existing and potential businesses in the area, made possible by the contract work they do as the Columbia Valley Community Economic Development Office (CVCEDO).  The CVCEDO is a service of the Regional District of East Kootenay with initiatives that include, (but are no means limited to!) support of the Columbia Valley Housing Society (CVHS), hosting local job fairs and attending job recruitment events across the country, supporting local childcare staff training and logistic needs to increase capacity, attracting film projects, and a significant destination signage project. The CVCEDO strives to attract and retain a sustainable and thriving workforce, encourages investment, retention, and support of local business, and maintain visibility and goodwill amongst businesses and the community at large.  

It is always a challenge to attract Doctors and locums to a rural practice.  In our region, while maintaining a busy practice, family doctors and general practitioners also work at the hospital emergency department which can be unpredictable and demanding.  However, working in a location such as the Columbia Valley can provide invaluable and diverse experience for physicians.  The Physician Recruitment program aims to fill several positions and attract long-term locums to the area.  Representatives from an established Recruitment Committee attend two highly beneficial conference/tradeshows each year: The Society of Rural Physicians of Canada – “Annual Rural & Remote Medicine Conference”, and the Rural Coordination Centre of BC – “BC Rural Health Conference”.  Once prospective recruits are identified, members of the Recruitment Committee will host tours of the area for prospective general practitioners (and their families) and plan welcome meetings for visiting locums, residents, and students.  They also created a Physician Recruitment Website which is regularly maintained.  

As one can imagine in a community with a seasonal population that easily doubles the full-time resident numbers, the challenge of finding housing to support the staffing and family needs in the region feels insurmountable.  The Columbia Valley Housing Society was formed in 2022 as an attempt to dedicate resources to helping solve this urgent crisis, and a full time Project Manager was hired in 2023.  The Society has partnered with local government in purchasing and managing housing and is currently in negotiations to both purchase and build or develop other multi-unit long-term rentable dwellings.  They have recently been designated a registered charity and are actively seeking donors, particularly within the business community; support of the housing society is a direct way to create housing opportunities for critically needed staffing.  Recent studies estimate that 14% of full-time employment positions remain unfilled in the Columbia Valley and the vast majority of respondents blame the current housing availability.    

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce is an organization dedicated to serving their members in a plethora of useful, creative, and interesting ways – diversity is an essential piece of this puzzle.  Rural Regional Chambers experience a unique set of challenges, and therefore must consider many and varied solutions to those problems.  The previous three examples are a snapshot of how the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce has worked towards solving a few pressing issues in their communities.

–  Deanna Berrington