By Nikki Jamieson
A new Chamber of Commerce could start operating in the Vauxhall area next year, but first local businesses have to give it the thumbs up.
The Vauxhall Business Society will be voting on becoming a Chamber of Commerce for Vauxhall and area, but before they vote on it at their annual general meeting in November, they want to make sure they have the community’s support.
“We see that the future, as a society, is very limited, because we cannot offer very much to our members,” said Joerg Klempnaer, chair of VBS. “Chambers have been around for 150 years in Canada, and they have formed a solid backbone for business, to voice their interests to politicians, to government and so on. And we know that small businesses are really carrying the infrastructure; it’s not the big multi-national companies that are really the backbone of rural Alberta or the Prairies. It is the small companies that invest and create new businesses and new jobs and so on, because they are locally oriented and also have an invested interest to shop local and be in the local economy. That’s why I feel that the chamber would be very interesting and a long-term solution for representing businesses.”
The VBS had been resurrected eight years ago, after a previous society, Vauxhall Business Association, had slowly ceased to function. Serving as a voice for the businesses in the town of Vauxhall, they originally consisted of a handful of members, but now serve 51 companies in Vauxhall, at both the town and the Municipal District level.
As a society, they take care of the business directories and keep a close eye on business matter in Vauxhall town council, bringing concerns up when necessary.
However, as a society, VBS is very limited in how they can help the businesses in the area. As they can only work with businesses that exist within Vauxhall town limits, it leaves a number of businesses in the M.D. out of their reach.
“As a society, we feel we’re very limited in what we can do because we have no real lobbying power,” said Klempnaer.
“Right now, we really are limited to the town of Vauxhall; we cannot go to Enchant or Hays for instance, because it is not our mandated area. So we’re very tied and bound to the town area of Vauxhall.”
While Vauxhall is currently included under the umbrella of the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce, whose area includes the entire M.D. of Taber, there is the feeling that the TDCC cannot properly represent and serve Vauxhall and other communities in the northern part of the M.D., as they are too far away. These communities are also too far for chambers in the surrounding districts and counties to serve them properly.
VBS is currently working with TDCC on becoming their own Vauxhall and District Chamber of Commerce, basically covering the communities north of the Oldman River, and “bringing a little bit better representation to our area”.
“If we want to create a chamber of Vauxhall and area, the Taber chamber would have to release that area to us. And we have discussed this already with the Taber chamber, and they have no opposition in doing so, to, more or less, have the area north of the Oldman River being part of the Vauxhall and area chamber. So we would have, in the M.D., two chambers.”
While there are two levels on which a chamber can be registered — provincial or federal — it makes more sense for VBS to be registered as a chamber federally, because it automatically means that they are registered on the provincial level as well, while if they just register provincially, they are not federally recognized.
As a federal chamber, they could offer services such as issuing certificates of origin, provide a group health and dental plan for member companies, discount programs on fuel and other goods, access to education programs for businesses and processing documents for passports.
“It would be a more at home service we could deliver,” said Klempnaer. “It would be more locally operated and organized.”
However, there will be an increase in costs with becoming a chamber. Right now, VBS members pay $35-50 a year, depending on what type of organization you are.
As a chamber, fees would be up to $120 a year, more than double what they’re paying now.
“The only negative part of it is membership fees will go up a little bit,” said Klempnaer.
To become a chamber, they would need at least 31 members. With the blessing obtained from TDCC, if the vote goes through, it will take three months for the chamber to get started, meaning that the earliest the chamber could start operating would be February 2017.
They would also have to carry over all assets and money in the VBS to the new chamber, and VBS would have to be disbanded.
“You would not want two organizations side by side; one has to cease when the other takes over,” said Klempnaer. “But, its kind of like chicken and the egg, what is first?
“Our opinion right now is if we have support from our membership, we probably would start up the chamber simultaneously while we still have the association. But as soon as we have everything — it takes up to three months to form a Chamber — so once this is all carved in stone and agreed with, membership wise and with the federal corporations act, then we would cease as a society, and only carry on as a chamber.”
The Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act regulates federal, not-for-profit corporations, including chamber of commerces who register at that level.
Once the chamber is in place, Klempnaer says that they plan on going into a joint-venture with the Vauxhall Public Library, who would provide a fixed office space in exchange for funding, for a part-time employee for the chamber, and the library has expressed interest in doing so.
As the board of directors for VBS, and subsequently, the chamber, are volunteers, they currently have no fixed office space, and no one is currently employed by the society to do administration work. As the library is a public service, and not a business, it would not be a conflict of interest for the chamber to operate out of it.
“Once we have a chamber, we will have, of course, more businesses to look after, more administration work. So we’ll try to find somebody to be our physical address, so to speak, and the library would be ideal. Because it has no invested interest other then the library issues, so it would be independent to operate our interests, other than a business would. We could go to an insurance company, or a lawyer office or somebody else in Vauxhall, to look after our business affairs partially, part-time, but it would be a conflict of interest in our opinion.”
Although technically, they could begin the process of becoming a chamber today, placing every member of the society under the chamber flag, but that’s not very logical say Klempnaer, unless at least 31 of them want to be under the chamber banner. The board wants to wait until their AGM in November, and make the decision then, as before the process can begin, they need 31 members to agree to join the theoretical chamber, before they can start the process. They are also interested in finding out just how many businesses outside of Vauxhall’s town limits would be interested in joining.
“It is a little bit of an unknown territory. You have to do the application and form the chamber before it is actually registered with the federal corporation act, there is no other way of doing it,” said Klempnaer, adding once those 31 members agree to do enter into the chamber, then the process starts.
“One gets a little bit of tunnel vision; our board is interested in forming this, but if we don’t find any further support from companies, business in our area, then it is a step that we should not do. That’s why we want to gauge (support) a little bit before our AGM, if there’s interest from businesses in the area to form this.
“It has to be business driven and driven by people interested to form this. It does not serve any purpose to initially have the minimum number of members, form the chamber, and then it collapses because members don’t see the benefit in it long-term or don’t get any rewards for being part of the Chamber… We need to see that we have sustainability in the area, and that we can provide something to members. Just forming something new to have the name, does not serve a purpose.”
The VBS AGM meeting will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Vauxhall Legion. During this meeting, they plan on voting on whether or not they should become a chamber.
“I see it as more sustainable, but the businesses have to tell us if they feel it is a viable option or not.”