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Passion for Orillia drives new chamber director

Allan Lafontaine taking over for Susan Lang at chamber of commerce
2018-03-09 Allan Lafontaine
Allan Lafontaine is the new managing director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters

The new managing director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce is starting the job during a busy time for the organization, and he couldn’t be happier.

Allan Lafontaine is taking over for Susan Lang, who is retiring at the end of the month after more than 25 years with the chamber.

“I only see opportunity. If there’s lots to do, that means there’s opportunity,” Lafontaine told OrilliaMatters.

With boating season around the corner and the impending relocation of the chamber’s offices, Lafontaine will jump right into the fray.

He previously worked as a tax consultant, working for municipalities, First Nations, hospitals as well as both not-for-profit and for-profit businesses and organizations. In that role, he also looked after sales and marketing for the company. He then entered the auto sales business and worked as sales manager with Orillia Mazda.

“When this opportunity came up, it aligned a little more with my business experience and the municipal and non-profit scenario,” he said.

One of his goals as managing director of the chamber is to bring more businesses on board, adding to the roster of 640 members.

“It would be great to have everyone who is a business owner in the community get involved with the chamber. It’s a great way to be part of the community,” he said.

He should know. He belonged to a board of trade when he started his own business at age 27, and the experience was invaluable. Veteran business owners became mentors.

“They wanted to help me and share their knowledge,” he said, adding he hopes other business owners will take advantage of the networking opportunities available to chamber members.

His sees his new job is a win-win: “You’re involved in the community and you get to meet people in the business community.”

Orillia’s chamber is unique in that it also looks after special events in the city and operates the Port of Orillia. That didn’t scare Lafontaine away; it added to the appeal.

“How lucky am I that we have the best waterfront in Ontario, if not Canada, and I get to be involved in all of that?” he said. “I love this place.”

He has worked in many places in Ontario and beyond, but there’s something special about Orillia.

“It’s a joyful experience here. It’s called the Sunshine City, but it’s also the friendly city,” he said. “People look you in the eye when they’re talking to you here.”

He has been made to feel welcome here. “In turn, I feel an obligation to do great by the community.”

As a member of the Rotary club, Lafontaine likes the idea of the chamber being involved in the community, taking its pulse and that of those who visit. Managing the Port of Orillia will help him do that.

“(Visitors) are good at telling you what you could be doing, and it’s great to take that feedback to the business community,” he said.

While there will be plenty to keep Lafontaine busy as he begins his new job, his predecessor has made the transition easy.

“Susan was very organized and the board has many wonderful programs already in place,” he said. “We’re like peas in a pod. We’re both very passionate about Orillia.”