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Messages from the Chair of the Board and the President

orla johnston Chair's Message

As my tenure as Chair of the Board for the Oakville Chamber of Commerce winds down, I look back with pride at the year’s accomplishments. In my first Chair’s Message to appear in this magazine, I pledged to act as the voice of Oakville business and to advocate for members at all levels of government while building upon the Chamber’s past successes. The year was marked by a whirlwind of events that kept me true to my promise.

Of the many highlights of my year, the Oakville Awards for Business Excellence was among the most rewarding. That it was the most successful Gala ever is a testament to the Chamber’s ability to engage and value the business community for whom it speaks. I was ecstatic to be part of an event that celebrated the contributions businesses have made to the Oakville community.

When I travelled to beautiful Kelowna, BC, for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Annual General Meeting, I was thrilled to see the Oakville Chamber receive the Certificate for Accreditation with Distinction. Only seven percent of all Canadian chambers have received this distinction – confirmation that the Oakville Chamber models how a Chamber should operate. With confidence and a determination to continue along this path, the Board spent a great deal of time and effort into updating the Chamber’s strategic plan this same year.

The launch of the Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs Group (known as YPEG) at the start of 2014 created an exciting opportunity for the Chamber to connect with the business community’s youngest and brightest. With two successful events already under our belt, I’m confident this group will be a positive force for years to come.

Not to be forgotten was the Chamber’s first ever group trip to China. Almost 200 people joined this excursion to experience China’s culture. Judging by the comments upon their return, it was a fantastic experience. No surprise, then, that the destinations and dates are expanding for the coming year to include India, China, Costa Rica, Prague, and Croatia.

Like years past, the Chamber led its typical events with great success: Small Business Week, 60th Annual Golf Tournament, an All-Candidates Meeting, and a myriad of networking opportunities. This year, we addressed the issue of transportation in the GTHA – something of great concern to our members – with the Moving Today for Tomorrow Symposium. It was one of the Chamber’s many opportunities throughout the year to feature prominent speakers, such as Federal Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt, Ontario Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Glen Murray, and Metrolinx President and CEO Bruce McCuaig. Additionally, the following business and political leaders spoke at Chamber hosted events: Progressive Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak, Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, Siemens CEO Robert Hardt, and Ontario Minister of Health Deb Matthews, to name a few.

My final months as Chair of the Board are bitter sweet. I have enjoyed serving the needs of our members and building valuable relationships that will last for many years to come. As the Chamber celebrates its 65th Anniversary this month, I want to extend  my heartfelt congratulations for all that it has accomplished, not only in the past year, but over the past six decades. I wish the Chamber’s members, volunteers, and staff another six prosperous decades.  

Orla Johnston

Chair of the Board

Oakville Chamber of Commerce

President’s Message

A few years ago the Oakville Chamber of Commerce hosted Scott Kress, a wonderful speaker who talked about his climb to the summit of Mount Everest.  Scott’s key message was about how your very survival on Everest depended on the ability to understand what is within your control and what’s beyond your control.   If you really wanted to survive, you shouldn’t waste precious time, energy and resources on things you cannot influence; rather, focus on the things over which you have some control.  

We can apply this same message to the discussion around the current state of Downtown Oakville. There are many factors affecting what is, and what is not, happening Downtown.  The health of the overall economy, emerging trends in retailing, even the severe weather this past winter have all had an effect on our Downtown.  In Scott’s words, these are issues over which we have little, if any, influence; so let’s be aware of them, adapt and move on.

The Chamber has established a taskforce to review the issues facing our Downtown.  We have been asking our Members, residents associations and peers in other communities to share their thoughts and experiences to identify those factors we can control; and, more specifically those that we should focus on. Here are four items we think should be reviewed:

Parking. Based on the comments we receive and personal experience, parking enforcement is a key part of the issue. The approach to parking has been punitive and unfriendly. We really need ambassadors not enforcers Downtown.   

There needs to be a greater focus on visitor attraction strategies.  Our unique Downtown is a destination that provides a wonderful experience. Supporting our merchants is key to its survival. Short-term and long-term strategies for improving our Downtown experience are necessary to draw visitors in greater numbers not only today, but in the years to come.

It is time to look at the tax regime.  Businesses Downtown typically pay more than twice the rate of tax paid by residential tax payers.   Significant increases in property values combined with annual increases to the Town’s portion of the tax rate, mean business are paying a disproportionate share of property taxes. 

A review of the regulatory burden on Downtown businesses.  Restrictions and costs related to signage, patios, heritage, street displays, levies, fees and permits add to the cost of doing business downtown. 

The pending reconstruction of Lakeshore Road over at least two seasons will bring its own challenges.  Landlords and retailers need to work through how they will adapt to the changing market and landscape. We encourage local residents to play their part by patronizing the stores and restaurants Downtown. It is, after all, a defining characteristic of our community and ensuring it can thrive is a responsibility we all should share.

There is no silver bullet. Work will be needed on a number of fronts. We are pleased to see the Town recognizes the issues facing Downtown and look forward to hearing what steps will be taken to negate the impact of construction and address some of the other issues that have been raised.  The Chamber will continue to engage with the Town providing strong and effective advocacy in the interests of our members.  We will work together for a vibrant and prosperous downtown – because our Downtown is a reflection of our community. 

John Sawyer
Oakville Chamber of Commerce

Small Business Week Kick Off Breakfast

with Jim Treliving

Monday October 20th

BPI archival - chain leader outtake 2004 4

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Wed Sep 24 @ 7:30AM
Aon Good Morning Oakville September 2014 Regular Registration
Wed Sep 24 @ 7:30AM
Aon Good Morning Oakville September 2014 (5 Minute Member Speaker)
Wed Sep 24 @ 7:30AM
Aon Good Morning Oakville September 2014 (2 Minute Member Speaker)
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