Chamber Leaders in Action: Colleen Evans, Campbell River Chamber

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Colleen Evans: Building Community for Business Success

Campbell River is transitioning from a resource-based community to a goods and service community, undergoing significant revitalization. The challenge for Colleen Evans, the President and CEO of the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce, is creating an environment that allows the Chamber to leverage revenue-generating opportunities in a way that will be sustainable into the future and enable businesses to thrive.

She brought with her over 20 years of experience in community, business and economic development, extending across the public, for-profit and not-for profit sectors. She’s been applying that experience to the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce for the past seven years.

"I saw the Chamber as a great opportunity to take an active role in making a difference in the future of Campbell River with an organization that had the brand, respect and foundation to really affect change and the way business was done," says Evans.

Some challenges are specific to her community, while others are broader.

“I think we can all recognize that membership based organizations including the Chamber are evolving,” says Evans. “Social media means networking happens 24/7. Quality of life choices are driving new business models and changing the demographics of business ownership. These changes were reflected as we moved forward in developing our new tiered-membership model. Our members now join and renew by choosing the benefits that they value and that has created new relevancy for the role of the Chamber in our community. They see us as building and nurturing a positive business environment for their business to thrive and prosper in.”

Evans also stresses the distinction between networking and connecting members. “Connections are all about providing access to influence,” she says. “It’s more than just helping people meet people. Our members are looking to the Chamber to be the connector for them to gain access to the right connections at the right time for their business.”

This becomes increasingly important as the Chamber must adapt to the changing needs of its membership.

Reacting to Challenges

She said that in talking to stakeholders, participating in roundtable discussions, and surveying members, she found two key issues that resonated: the need to create a positive business climate and access to a skilled workforce that meets the needs of the employers.

So how is the Chamber doing that? First, a little background. In 2008, Campbell River lost the community’s primary employer, the mill. Along with that, the community also lost a large portion of its  employee base. Fast forward to 2010, and the announcement that Campbell River would be the site of two major projects: a $1.2 billion generating station redevelopment and a new hospital.

“Those two major projects led to some rigorous discussion by our Chamber,” says Evans. “We asked: what that would mean for local hiring? What it would mean for local procurement? How can we make sure that our suppliers, our businesses and our contractors are going to be given equal opportunity to compete for those jobs? How are we going to be guaranteed that the local work force is going to have the opportunity to be employed with those contracts?”

All of those questions led to the creation of the Major Projects Portal website (www.majorprojects.ca) that ensured that the bid proponent and the successful major contractors were able to easily access local suppliers, contractors and workforce because they were showcased on one centralized, easy-to-access place.

And it worked. The proponents said that had that portal not been there, they probably would have looked to major cities like Victoria or Vancouver to fill their workforce and contract needs.

“What that means in 2016 is that the largest percentage of local hires has taken place on both of those major projects in Campbell River – higher than [for] any other hospital project in B.C. and higher than any other BC Hydro project in B.C.” says Evans. She added that BC Hydro is now using that model for the Site C dam, currently under construction.

The portal is now used to showcase all of the success stories that came out of those projects. “Who is getting these jobs? How are they getting the jobs? What is the impact on our local economy? Those success stories are being told through the Major Projects Portal and the role of the Chamber [is] linked directly to creating an environment for our members’ and business’ success.”

Creating a Positive Business Climate

Many communities hold awards shows and top 40 under 40 events, but Evans saw the opportunity to do something a little different – create greater employer awareness around the type of skills that are available in Campbell River.

“Of course people would understand that we would have a great forestry and natural resource skillset in our community. Of course people would expect that we would have young professionals in professional practices in our community,” says Evans. “But what many employers and prospective investors in our community did not realize is the diversity of highly-talented skilled scientists and technology expertise that was available in our community.”

The Chamber decided hosted an event called FUTURE15 – showcasing 15 individuals that are shaping the future of Campbell River and driving change that directly impacts the growth and vitality of local businesses.

“This event demonstrated the Chamber’s leadership role by profiling who  the social innovators in our community were,” explains Evans. “Who are the up-and-coming business leaders in our community? Who is  affecting and creating change in our community?”

That contributed to the Chamber’s  goals of access to a skilled workforce and creating a positive business climate.  Connections that were made at the sold-out event led to a new business being developed in the community in the science and technology sector, which is now able to collaborate on attracting new scientists to the area.

Building Community

When the Chamber did its  business walk this year, it  asked what would help local  business thrive. Evans said the response that came out of that was the recognition that a healthy community is essential for a successful, thriving business. Businesses also shared the importance of social innovation in the community.

In response to that, the Chamber created a new series: Business + Social = Impact.

“We’re focusing on bridging between business and not-for-profit organizations, because we see the community benefit in investing in opportunities to support social innovation in our community, and address the social issues in our community that are affecting business,” says Evans.

One way they’re doing that is by adding a new business category award for social enterprise.

Another piece of the business + social = impact model is social procurement. The Chamber is taking a leadership role through seeking grant funding to create collaboration between for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. “When procurement is taking place, we’re asking how those RFPs can include a community benefit that may look at things such as creating job opportunities for key marginalized youth, for example of creating education and training opportunities,” explains Evans. “Businesses see social as an important part of their business marking strategies and plans.”

As Campbell River adjusts to changes, Evans says the biggest challenge is in making sure everything they do looks forward to building a strong, sustainable future, and credits her experience in both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations for her dynamic approach.

“It’s about creating the environment that allows us to leverage these economic generator opportunities in a way that will be sustainable into the future. It’s like getting that inheritance windfall. If you don’t invest in the future, and you don’t leverage that for sustainability, that’s all it is – a windfall. It doesn’t talk about growing the community, and it doesn’t talk about sustainability within our community. As much as our community is a very responsive, nimble community, and has been able to deal with some significant challenges, we also have to ensure that the Chamber is seen as a key player and partner investing in the future of business retention and growth.”