Slave Lake & District Chamber of Commerce Notebook

Nov. 26, 2019 meeting
Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Business surveys: Have you been visited?

Chamber vice-president Josh Friesen informed the members that a survey of local businesses was winding down. This is a joint project of Community Futures, the Chamber, the Town of Slave Lake and Alberta Labour and Immigration. Participating businesses actually sit down with somebody from the team and answer questions about what it’s like doing business in these times – various challenges and opportunities and such. Friesen said the goal had been to do 100 of these and that has been achieved, with a few more scheduled.

The information being gleaned, he said, is “fascinating.”

Nor will it be put on a shelf. Friesen said the results of the survey are to be ‘revealed’ at a formal event, perhaps in late February or early March.

New software: work in progress

Chamber manager Kimberly Hughes reported that a switch to new software for the Chamber website was proceeding, and would eventually make everything better and easier than it is. It will have a business directory feature, it’ll be searchable, it will facilitate job postings, advertising and lots of interaction between Chamber members, among much else.

Speaking of the business directory, Hughes said feedback is needed from Chamber members on how they would like to be listed – what categories and so on, for search purposes.

“There’s quite a lot of potential here,” added Chamber president Frankie Giroux.

Mini Monster Halloween

On the events side of things, Hughes reported that the Chamber’s Halloween promotion – wherein participating businesses lay on the candy and invite trick-or-treaters during regular business hours – was successful again. There was some confusion, apparently, about what hours it was going on. But on the whole, lots of parents took advantage of it and brought their little ones around for some daylight trick-or-treating at businesses.

“We look forward to doing it again next year,” said Hughes.

Leadercast Women: last-minute success

This event on leadership for women had organizers chewing on their fingernails when advance ticket sales did not come close to covering costs. But as it turned out the number of registrations of the last-minute variety more than doubled attendance and all was well.

“It was really inspirational,” said Friesen, adding that another one is planned for around the same time next year.

Moonlight Madness: people love a parade, but room for improvement

Hughes reported lots of positive feedback on this year’s event. She thanked Canadian Tire, Heavy Equipment Repair, Big Fish Bay and others for helping to make it a success.

More feedback came in the way of a comment that it’s too bad downtown seems to empty out so fast after the parade – unlike in years past. More things happening, post-parade might help. Of course this depends to a large degree on downtown businesses – Chamber members or not – going out of their way to put on special activities and bargains and promoting them.

Hughes said she hopes to organize sleigh rides for next year’s event.

Another question that came up was about the possibility of closing off Main St. to non-parade traffic altogether for the period of the parade. It’s complicated, Hughes said, but she can investigate.

Town manager Brian Vance said town staff manning the barricades had a hard time with people driving around them and even stealing barricades!

Another question; how about changing the Christmas light display? High Prairie’s is much more colourful.

Very expensive, was the answer. To repair the ‘snowflakes’ would cost $25,000. To replace them would cost $80,000. The Chamber does not have that money.

Outdoor lights contest

ATCO Electric was volunteering to judge the Chamber’s outdoor lights contest on Nov. 28. Stay tuned for news of the winners, who would be getting cash prizes.

Business excellence awards gala

The Chamber’s annual awards gala for business in the Slave Lake area is scheduled for March 7. Opportunities to nominate businesses online start in January, Hughes said. It’ll be a fairly simple process she said, so she’s hoping for lots of submissions.

The Chamber is also looking for award sponsors in several categories and she will be reaching out. The cost is $250.

Slightly in the hole

Giroux, as acting treasurer, said the Chamber is $1,900 in the red at the moment; this comes after a surplus in 2018. The main reason, she said, was increased expenses for Riverboat Daze. No worries, though; last year’s surplus will cover this year’s deficit.

Benefits of membership: ‘It’s a no brainer’

Looking for ideas on how to increase attendance at the monthly meetings, the executive asked for comments from around the table on what the benefits of Chamber membership are. Most of the answers had more to do with the benefits of attending monthly meetings, which was one way of answering the question.

Steve Adams of RE/MAX Realty (and the High Prairie School Division) said the big benefit for him was “making connections,” and “expanding contacts. For the price of it, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.

Josh Friesen, a business owner and also the manager of Community Futures, said he finds “really good value in bringing businesses together. It allows us to work together as a team to actually get things accomplished.”

Canadian Tire manager Mike McIver said being new to the community, attending Chamber meetings gives him a chance to find out what is going on – events and such.

Town manager Brian Vance said it’s helpful for town administration to know what business people are concerned about.

One attendee remarked at the absence of any Indigenous organization reps at the meeting.

“Maybe it’s time we reached out to them again,” said Friesen.

As for what it might take to induce more participation in the monthly membership meetings… there didn’t seem to be any earth-shaking ideas. Somebody did suggest having a speaker on a chosen topic. It’s been done before, of course. Giroux said if you are trying to do that eight times a year, it gets tough. Quarterly might work better.

Town report: snowflakes versus snowfall

Town Councillor Joy McGregor filled in for the mayor with the monthly report on town business. It covered the basic stuff that The Leader amply covers via the town council notebook three times per month. One thing new that came up, however, was a question from one of the members about scheduling for the installation of the ‘snowflake’ Christmas decorations by town staff in the days preceding Moonlight Madness. For two years in a row, McGregor heard, this project followed a fairly heavy snowfall. The result of this was snowflakes took precedence and snow didn’t get cleared. Maybe it would be good to schedule the decorations for a bit earlier?

McGregor said she’d take the suggestion back to town staff.

M.D. report: ‘It’s a complicated world’

Councillor Brad Pearson started off his report by saying he is filling in for the recently departed councillor Jeff Commins.

“He is going to be missed,” Pearson said.

Pearson spoke about the M.D.’s budgeting challenges. The tax base has shrunk with the abandonment of some industrial properties (industry accounting for 82 per cent of M.D. tax revenue), but expectations of the citizens for good roads and recreational opportunities don’t go down. The M.D. strives for a good balance, Pearson said.

The M.D. is also involved in lobbying the provincial government to take better care of provincial highways through the area. The more letters to Minister Ric McIver the better, he said.

Steve Adams asked how communications are with the new MLA.

“He’s receptive,” said Pearson. “However, nothing is easy. It’s a complicated world. He’s getting his feet under him.”

Friesen concluded the session by saying the Chamber would like to take part in the M.D.’s strategic planning.

High Prairie School Division: ‘We might be okay’

Adams, the HPSD trustee, also spoke about budget challenges. The recent cuts from the province have been handled, he said, without hurting the front line, i.e. the classroom. Efficiencies have been found. A decrease in students at the other end of the division doesn’t help.

Also not helping is an anticipated 240 per cent increase in the cost of insurance, “which we’re not funded for,” Adams said.

Better news comes in the expectation that the province is serious about adjusting the funding formula for rural school divisions, which have certain costs that don’t decline (busing is a good example) even when student numbers do.

“We might be okay,” he said.

The next meeting for the general membership will be the last Monday of January.

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