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Whistler Chamber welcomes new directors, chair to board

Chamber CEO also discusses organization's new three-year strategic plan
The Whistler Chamber of Commerce's board of directors for 2020, which includes new members Wendy Hargreaves, far left, Claire Ruddy, second from left, and Heather Odendaal, fourth from right. Photo submitted

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce has welcomed its new board chair and directors, who will now set their sights on implementation of the business advocacy organization's long-term strategic plan.

Sworn in at a ceremony last week, the newly elected board members are Claire Ruddy, head of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE); entrepreneur Heather Odendaal, co-founder of the women's leadership conference, WNORTH; and Wendy Hargreaves, sales and marketing director for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

The directors Pique reached deferred comment to chamber CEO Melissa Pace, who lauded the incoming members for the "extensive set of skills" they bring to the table. As head of Whistler's largest environmental organization, Ruddy will "really help us stay on top of climate change as it relates to business," Pace noted. Odendaal, meanwhile, brings "quite an extensive background in events and programs" to the board, Pace said, and will assist the chamber with the 60-plus events it produces a year. With her experience in the hotel industry, Pace said adding someone like Hargreaves to the board "is always a bonus because of the community we live in."

The new members replace directors Colin Hedderson, GM of the Aava Whistler Hotel; Brady Smith, outgoing executive director of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre; and Theresa Walterhouse, CPA and partner at BDO Canada. Walterhouse served nine years on the board, including as chair.

"We work so closely together and it's been a pleasure working with all of them. It's always sad to see such incredible talent go," Pace said of the outgoing directors.

Diana Chan, BlueShore Financial director and owner of Whistler Treats, has been named chair of the board.

Pace credited the board for a number of accomplishments in the prior term, including getting its resolution calling for modifications to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program approved at both the B.C. and Canadian chambers of commerce, as well as successfully lobbying the Resort Municipality of Whistler for road safety improvements in Function Junction, which were implemented last summer.

One of the largest undertakings at the chamber in recent years is the drafting of its three-year strategic plan, the first time the organization has embarked on such a long-term vision.

"Our chamber has been planning year over year, and for the first time in my understanding, we have a three-year plan and goals attached to that," said Pace.

"That really puts us on a trajectory of solid advocacy efforts on our part moving forward."

The plan has been divided into five key pillars: "Building Whistler's Employer Brand," which, working with other resort stakeholders, sets out ways to better attract employees to the resort; "Expanding our Community of Practice," a strategy to improve employee retention through expanding employers' medical coverage and "deepening our member services," Pace said; "Leading the Whistler Way," which encompasses employee training and the Whistler Experience program; "Business Intelligence for Competitive Advantage," which involves improving the chamber's internal IT and data collection; and "Partnering for Shared Success," which focuses on the organization's advocacy work at the local, provincial and national levels.

"We're finally getting a roadmap that we can go out to members and let them know exactly what we're going to be doing in the next three years. Every year, we will be looking three years out ... and the next step for us is to look at the economic possibilities," Pace said.

"It's to really safeguard the chamber against any possible economic downturn. Not that we want to talk negatively, of course, but you just never know. It's really important not to just us, but, of course, our businesses to always take that into consideration."

Pace said the local labour market has consistently been around 900 full-time-equivalent employees short in each of the last seven years. One of the goals of the strategic plan is to work with the community and resort stakeholders on reducing that number through a variety of initiatives, such as improving daycare access and filling the regional transportation gap in the corridor with private operators. The chamber is also looking at ways to support businesses stretched too thin to deliver certain labour and skills training on their own.

"It certainly takes a village, or more than that, to get all this done," Pace said.

Nominations are now open for the chamber's annual Excellence Awards, set for April 27. Nominations can be made at