Small business and local chambers go hand in hand 

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Whistler's small business community quietly ticks along often drawing little attention to itself. The limelight most often falls on the resort itself, or perhaps Whistler Blackcomb, or even local government.

But there is no denying that as important as the big employers are, our visitors would have a much less authentic experience if not for all the local businesses that continue to call Whistler home, despite the often challenging conditions of running in a resort-based, seasonal town.

Small business makes up 98 per cent of all business in the province and employs over one million people. It also provides nearly 55 per cent of all private-sector jobs in British Columbia, the highest rate in the country.

In 2012, approximately 385,900 small businesses were operating in the province, 82 per cent of which had fewer than five employees.

But keeping small business vibrant is a challenge — perhaps more so in a place like Whistler than anywhere else.

Housing our employees remains a challenge, though the situation is far better than it was just a decade ago, juggling seasonal-employee needs and coping with the vagrancies of the global economy, or even Mother Nature, all combine to make small-business life in Whistler a constant balancing act.

Resort-based economies are a unique breed of business climate. For while each business must thrive or die on its own merits, all are connected when it comes to the overall experience.

When a visitor comes to Whistler, each experience the traveller encounters makes up the whole — and helps form their opinion of the entire resort — even though the businesses offering those experiences are mostly independent.

Perhaps that is why Whistler's Chamber of Commerce has come to fill a rather unique niche role here. Over the years it has taken on a mentoring role for all our many international and Canadian workers — helping them understand what Whistler is all about.

This primarily happens through the Chamber's Spirit Program. Administered by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, and supported by $110,000 in taxpayers' dollars from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, it is also subsidized heavily by Whistler Blackcomb.

The strategy was up for discussion at this week's council meeting but has been put off for a couple of weeks.

For several months now there has been a quiet conversation going on about what the strategy around this should be going forward — it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

What we do know is that Chambers of Commerce in B.C. are an integral part of the community voice that helps govern the province.

More and more you hear about them speaking out whether it is in regards to tourism, or the environment or big business.

Last fall we saw a strongly worded discussion paper released by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, "Restoring Canadian Tourism."

It called the federal government on the carpet over its neglect of the tourism industry.

It pointed to a United Nations report on world tourism, which found that Canada's decline in travellers took place during a decade of expanding international tourism around the globe. While many new countries moved up the ranks, Canada was one of only five countries to experience a drop in arrivals.

The report estimates the federal government collects nearly $10 billion in taxes annually from tourism. And it says tourism is the "largest service export in the country," worth $17.3 billion a year in export revenue. Yet tourism is the only "export" that is not exempt from GST.

There are 125 Chambers of Commerce in B.C. representing 36,000 businesses. Our Whistler Chamber has 800 members.

With this week being proclaimed Chamber of Commerce Week in B.C. it is a good time to think about the organization and what it brings to Whistler.

In the past year, the province has worked closely with the BC Chamber of Commerce on one of government's most important initiatives for small business: the BC Small Business Accord. Introduced almost a year ago, the accord recognizes small business as a key driver of job creation and economic growth in B.C.

The BC Chamber of Commerce also has been consistent in delivering the message to government that red tape is one of the biggest burdens business owners face.

And it appears the government is listening as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business gives B.C. an 'A' grade on reporting publicly on how much red tape it makes small businesses go though.

PS: The third annual Whistler Excellence Awards in June are already in the planning stages, so nominate your choices before midnight May 9 at www.whistlerchamber.com/Events/Whistler-Excellence-Awards.html.

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