PORT AUX BASQUES – The Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce has a new President. Todd Strickland, who also serves as the town’s Deputy Mayor and is the Deputy Fire Chief for the Channel-Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department, was voted in by acclimation.
“I truly wish that somebody from the business community had stepped forward, but unfortunately this time it didn’t happen,” says Strickland. “It feels pretty good. No doubt about it.”
Strickland likes the idea of serving as the liaison for both the Town and the Chamber, and hopes to get more businesses to sign on as members. His goal as the new President is to help local businesses grow and move forward.
This is Strickland’s first time stepping into the role of President, although he has been a member of the Chamber for the past seven years. He has also previously served as the Chamber’s Vice-President.
“We’re kind of out of sorts with how we do our AGM (Annual General Meeting) business,” admits Strickland. “I’m not sure if it’s because of COVID that some of our business community didn’t come together and participate. If it is the reason, that’s very unfortunate.”
The Chamber itself got sidelined during the pandemic. Its sole full-time employee was on vacation when the first wave struck, and Strickland says they had hoped initially to keep her working from home. By closing the train museum to the public, she was able to work as normal but then the province began ordering businesses to shut down.
“A few weeks down the road there was just not that much for her to do,” says Strickland. “Really we did shut down for approximately three months.”
The Chamber did send their employee as their representative to the the Southwestern COVID Action Committee, and she kept the board and members in the loop with information coming from those meetings. Serving as Vice-President and part of the COVID committee, Strickland did what he could to try to keep members informed during the shutdown.
“The big thing with the Chamber is having people involved,” says Strickland. “Unfortunately we probably only have one-third or so, approximately one-third, of the businesses in the Port aux Basques and surrounding areas that are Chamber members so I would like to see that grow.”
Now that the Chamber is back into full swing, in addition to growing its membership it is focusing on programs like Linkages, which helps connect youth with job opportunities within the community. Strickland isn’t sure how many years the Chamber has been helming the Linkages program but says it has always been a huge success and allows youth to get some job experience and references while helping businesses fill temporary staffing needs.
To attract more new members, Strickland says he is focused on finding ways to provide more services that the Chamber can offer to the business community, what development grants and supports are already in place such as the Linkages program, and the benefits of professional networking.
One of the Chamber’s more successful networking events is the annual Business Expo. That had to be cancelled due to COVID and the resulting economic down.
“When we have some of our major players that can’t attend the Expo it kind of has a snowball effect,” observes Strickland. “If we can revitalize that, depending on the rules, regulations, permissions with the COVID, we will definitely have a look at it again. It’s going to depend on our major vendors; as long as they’re on side.”
Strickland says there is strength in numbers and even casual, informal networking can provide insight that may help a fellow entrepreneur solve a problem. Networking with the public to help promote local business is another area Strickland has identified as problematic.
“Being a small community, being a small town, buying local isn’t always possible and I totally understand that,” says Strickland. “If we keep the money in town, spend the dollars in town, I think it’s so much better for all of the business community, so much better for all of the townspeople, better for all of the Southwest Coast.”
He points out that it’s understandable that people want to save money, especially on larger purchases, by shopping in Corner Brook or St. John’s. He sometimes can’t get what he wants locally, but when he can choose that option he makes a conscious decision to support a local business instead. He believes that some consumers may simply be unaware there is a local business offering a similar product, and that’s where the Chamber can help businesses get the word out.
“If it’s not on the shelf here, maybe it can be brought in,” says Strickland, noting that travelling to urban areas requires more time, food and gas. “Buying local might be cheaper if you look at it in the grand scheme of things.”
Currently only five of the Chamber’s nine board seats are filled, but Strickland says three businesses are interested in joining and believes more will follow. Anyone interested in learning more about the Chamber can reach out via their website or Facebook page, or contact Cheryl Dingwell at (709) 695-3688 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There were some great people at the helm before myself and I just want to see that continue,” says Strickland. “Hopefully make the Chamber bigger and better than it ever was.”