As we look back at 2020, there’s absolutely no question that it was a year like no other as Covid-19 impacted all of us professionally and personally.
But while there were significant challenges, the pandemic also highlighted the strengths of the North Okanagan, including the quality of businesses and recreation opportunities at our fingertips, the kindness of our neighbours, the courage of frontline workers and the generosity of organizations like Okanagan Spirits which produced and donated hand sanitizer when there was a shortage. Businesses and non-profits demonstrated their creativity and flexibility to continue their services, while the community showed increased support for local commerce.
Here at the Chamber, our team adapted quickly to ensure your needs were being addressed, particularly as the information around government initiatives and health protocols evolved almost daily. Webinars focused on key issues such as law and marketing, while town halls provided you access to decision-makers. Our website became the go-to information hub for those wanting up-to-date details on economic recovery. We ensured that our members were aware of businesses offering curbside pick-up and we promoted local shopping, including the Vote Vernon campaign and the Merriment Experiment Christmas gift exchange which involved only local goods and services.
Throughout the year, we advocated for our members’ survival and recovery through Covid-19 and staff and directors contacted members to identify areas of concern. We then reached out to government entities to encourage the postponement of collecting property taxes so businesses had the opportunity to bounce back from the initial lockdown, request reimbursement for personal protective equipment expenses incurred by businesses, extend the temporary layoff time limit and to request the federal government purchase sanitizer from Canadian producers rather than offshore sources. We continue to advocate for fair tax treatment of alcohol to create a marketplace for craft distilleries. We have also pressed forward with efforts to work with the Minister of Environment to purchase, with public and private donors, the Chelsea Estate on Okanagan Lake to preserve sandy beaches and expand trails in Ellison Provincial Park.
Obviously networking and personal connections had to evolve, but fostering relationships and countering pandemic isolation was a priority. Business After 5 went virtual while Chamber staff reached out to members by phone, email and from a social distance. Signature events like the Top 20 Over 40 and the Business Excellence Awards continued virtually and were an overwhelming success. Our staff left gift cards for local shops on the windshields of vehicles with out of province license plates to welcome them to (safely!) explore our town.
We ended 2020 with 604 members, including 106 new members, and we are humbled and grateful for the support you continue to show this organization and the community. We couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for you.
As we move through 2021, we know that the pandemic will continue to influence everything we do as a business, non-profit or a community. But hope will prevail as we take this journey together.
Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce