CORNWALL, Ontario – The Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce has gone through significant changes over the past year, but Executive Director Greg Pietersma is confident that the organization is on track to bring the best service it can to its members.
Over the course of this summer alone, the Chamber has ended its relationship with ServiceOntario and moved out of its former home at 113 Second St. E and into a new office at 55 Water St.
The Cornwall Chamber had owned the building on Second St., but chose to sell it last October as a part of a rebranding strategy.
“The Board wanted the Executive Director to focus on the business of the Chamber and not on managing a building and ServiceOntario,” Pietersma said. “It really had nothing to with with being a Chamber of Commerce. he divestiture set us up so that when the pandemic hit, I was able to fully focus on that.”
Pietersma explained that when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the region, he was able to work as a sort of triage centre for businesses in need of aid.
“I remember sitting with my counterparts at the CFDC and EOTB thinking ‘this will be big,'” Pietersma recalled. “We took calls from more than just businesses. We were helping members and non-members alike.”
As Chamber Executive Director, Pietersma was able to see how the pandemic was affecting businesses, connect them with resources at the BDC or CFDC, and relay their concerns to local elected officials like MP Eric Duncan and MPP Jim McDonell.
The Chamber also launched a Shop Local initiative. The Shop Local Cornwall and Area website aggregated a list of local businesses and helped owners connect with their customers throughout the pandemic. Pietersma explained that this initiative is being re-worked to better serve businesses in case of a second wave of the pandemic.
Pietersma explained that the current philosophy of the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce was being guided by three main pillars and they are: 1. Advocating for local businesses 2. Providing access to knowledge, resources, and support and 3. providing opportunities for members by leveraging the the combined experience and power of that membership base.
Ways that Pietersma has sought to implement these pillars has included a closer relationship with the city’s two Business Improvement Associations (BIAs), the Downtown BIA and the Le Village BIA.
The Chamber is now providing not only advocacy, but also coordination for the BIAs, organizing meetings and the like. Most recently the Chamber surveyed the BIAs on whether or not Cornwall City Council should extend two hour free parking in the downtown.
Effectively, the Chamber has take over the role once served by the Heart of the City Coordinator, although at a savings. After the previous Heart of the City Coordinator Todd Lihou left the position for a new opportunity, the Chamber stepped in to manage those responsibilities, for less compensation from the BIAs, and Heart of the City than what was paid to the former salaried position.
“This is working really well to help achieve what I wanted for the Chamber in being connected with what is going on,” Pietersma explained, saying that the partnership was allowing the Chamber to build closer relationships with businesses in the BIAs.
When asked about the value the Chamber provided to its members, Pietersma explained that the Chamber’s main asset was advocacy.
“The main thing a Chamber needs to do is be the voice of business,” he said. “I am at meetings that you don’t have time to be at. We have the ability to ensure that the voice of business is heard. We have the advantage of a large group all contributing which allows us to work together to create solutions for Cornwall businesses.”
Going forward, Pietersma and the Cornwall Chamber is preparing for their Annual General Meeting on Sept. 22, where they will confirm their new board of directors, and prepare to launch a new website.
“I really am pleased, we have a good mix of business owners,” Pietersma said, and he was optimistic about the future of the Chamber given the recent changes.
“Our hope is that it is a signal to the community that the Chamber has made a lot of changes to be relevant in the 2020s and beyond,” he said.