Chamber tackles sustainable business practices 

Godfrey, Forseth, Denbak, Toth on first business-to-business panel

Sustainability is a concept Whistler has endorsed whole heartedly, particularly on a social and environmental level. There has been less discussion about economic sustainability.

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce will attempt to change that next week with the first of what may become a series of panel discussions on locals doing business with locals.

The panel for the first discussion – Thursday, May 15 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler – includes Whistler-Blackcomb Vice-president of Operations Doug Forseth, Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak, RMOW administrator Jim Godfrey and Chateau Whistler general manager Kevin Toth.

"There’s a perception that it’s easier for a Vancouver or Seattle company to do business with these people than it is for a local company," said Michael Facundo, a chamber director who spearheaded the panel discussion.

"Whether that’s perception or fact, we’ll be able to hear from the panelists about what and when it makes sense for them to buy locally."

One of the objectives is to create a better understanding of what businesses require of their suppliers, particularly in these increasingly competitive times. That should help local suppliers become more competitive.

The format will include a question and answer session but there is also a series of guide questions for the panelists, including:

How can local businesses help your organization achieve its goals?

How can the Whistler business community be more competitive?

How would you describe your current and intended business relationship with locals?

What does your organization buy? Are there opportunities for locals?

What are the hurdles you see for locals to do business with your organization?

What is your purchasing policy? How should locals access information to bid?

While the panel may provide answers that help individual businesses in Whistler, the idea is also to build on local expertise to increase the town’s competitive advantages nationally and internationally. Facundo says it’s based on the principle of economic clusters taught by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter.

Clusters are geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions in a particular field. Clusters arise because they increase the productivity with which companies can compete, according to Porter. Silicon Valley is one of the best known economic clusters.

In theory, location should no longer be a source of competitive advantage. Open global markets, rapid transportation, and high-speed communications should allow any company to source any thing from any place at any time. But in practice, location remains central to competition, according to Porter. Geographic, cultural, and institutional proximity provides companies with special access, closer relationships, better information, powerful incentives, and other advantages that are difficult to tap from a distance. The more complex, knowledge-based, and dynamic the world economy becomes, the more this is true.

Most Whistler businesses have expertise in aspects of the mountain resort and tourism industry. That knowledge can be a competitive advantage to Whistler companies locally and in other mountain resort and tourism-based locations.

"Enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things – knowledge, relationships, motivation – that distant rivals cannot match," Porter says.

For Whistler to become more competitive as an economic cluster the chamber has a role to play in getting businesses to work together, says Facundo. The first step is Thursday’s panel discussion.

The discussion is free for all members of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce. Businesses that are not members can attend for a $20 fee.

While the first panel discussion is fairly broad and involves some of Whistler’s largest employers, future sessions are likely to be focussed on more specific issues.

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