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Local chamber of commerce creating new advocacy position

'By developing this role, we’ll be able to transition past being asked to push forward a political agenda,' says outgoing chamber president
2020-11-04 Orillia District Chamber of Commerce
Allan Lafontaine, left, managing director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce, is shown with chamber president Nathan Brown, centre, and incoming president Bill Ecklund. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters

The Orillia District Chamber of Commerce is creating a new staff position as it attempts to strengthen its efforts to support local businesses and municipalities.

The new staffer will focus on policy and advocacy.

“There is a misconception of what the chamber is. We were never a political group. We are a business group,” said chamber president Nathan Brown.

Not everyone understands that. Brown said the chamber often receives calls and emails from those who are upset about decisions made by the city and asking the chamber to intervene.

It begged the question, then: “How do we advocate without making it political?”

That will be part of the role of the new staff member, whose advocacy will focus on supporting not only businesses in Orillia, but also in surrounding municipalities.

It’s also an attempt to strengthen relationships with municipal governments in the area. Other chambers that have created similar positions “have seen improved relationships with their municipalities,” Brown said.

“Relationships between municipalities and groups like us become less competitive,” he said. “By developing this role, we’ll be able to transition past being asked to push forward a political agenda.”

As an example of how the new employee could help, Brown noted the Township of Oro-Medonte recently said it was having trouble getting the go-ahead from the province to make industrial land available to potential businesses and developers.

The chamber’s policy advocate could work to address that, possibly by reaching out to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which could then take those concerns to provincial government officials.

It is expected the advocate will also work to address issues around unreliable internet.

“Orillia has fantastic internet, but we have to support municipalities that don’t,” Brown said. “We can’t grow unless we have that infrastructure.”

“There are a lot of things we need to help municipalities with,” added Allan Lafontaine, managing director of the Orillia chamber, noting that will include “direct advocacy through the province and the Ontario chamber.”

Orillia chamber presidents serve one-year terms, and each president lays out goals to be achieved during that time. Strengthening relationships with municipalities was one of those goals for Brown and he feels the new advocacy position will help make that happen.

Incoming president Bill Ecklund will be at the helm of the chamber when that starts to take shape. He will take over as president Jan. 1.

Officials are working out the details of the job description. They will be looking for budget approval in late November, plan to post the job in early December and hope to have someone hired by spring. Ecklund, owner of Orillia’s Home Hardware, said that will be his No. 1 goal as president.

“I want to carry on what Nathan has started,” he said. “I’ve got some big shoes to fill. Nathan’s done a great job to get us where we are today. I want to keep building on that.”

Ecklund will also focus on boosting the chamber’s “shop locally” campaign and “navigating the questionable waters of COVID.”

“A lot of people look to online retailers during COVID, but when you support local, local supports you,” he said, adding, “Amazon doesn’t sponsor your kids’ sports teams.”

With the new advocacy position on the horizon, the chamber is increasing its efforts to bring more member business on board.

“We need the support of our members and for new members to come in,” Ecklund said. “It benefits everyone.”


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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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