The Hope & District Chamber of Commerce hosted its second installment ‘Present’ in a three part series of guest speakers to a sold out crowd of 150 guests at the Conference Room in the Rec Centre on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
The dinner event featured speakers Mayor Wilfried Vicktor, Dale Wheeldon and John Les, with an introductory welcome from Chawathil Hereditary Chief – Ron John. The evening was emceed by Terry Raymond.
Tables were adorned with red rose flower arrangements, candles, wine and candy hearts providing a little romance for a relaxed and good hearted evening. The evening’s agenda kicked off with the singing of O Canada and a prayer, led ceremoniously by Raymond.
Guests were greeted with a host of delectable delights, as they perused a buffet of pulled pork, sushi, perogies, sandwiches, salad, and baby potatoes to name a few of the dishes provided by local businesses, which was then followed by coffee and cake.
Volunteers bustled around the room, taking care of the smallest of details, making sure that guests were taken care of, as the inspiring evening flowed seamlessly into itself.
First in line at the podium was Chawathil Hereditary Chief John, who spoke of the importance of remembering the past, while looking to the future.
“I certainly have a lot of good memories of the past in Hope,” he said. “I remember when everyone knew their neighbours — it’s a friendly place to be and there’s a lot of places in the province that don’t have that wonderful feeling.”
Peaceful relationships among First Nations and non-First Nations, as well as the principle of loving ones neighbour, regardless of race or culture, were topics that John approached gracefully during his heartfelt speech.
He discussed the fundamental importance of working together, especially with the arrival of globalization and the internet, while moving forward from a turbulent past into a collaborative and harmonious existence with one another.
“I’m proud of Hope, I’m proud of our people — we suffered in the past too, but now it’s good to see everyone not look down on anybody else, and we’ve got to carry that message and pass it on to other people, and to the next generation,” said John. “We have to be reminded of the terrible things that did happen, so that they know not to let these terrible things ever happen again.”
John spoke of the beauty of the region and its bountiful resources, and how some of it has dwindled over the past 300 years.
“We’ve got to look after Mother Earth,” he said. “Because she looks after us in a good way and I want to be there for her for the future of our people.”
Mayor Wilfried Vicktor took the stage following John, and made a salient point about positivity, highlighting some of the reasons behind his healthy outlook regarding the future of Hope. Vicktor credited his current council and staff as being part of the reason for his level of optimism and outlined three positive strengths of all current council members, while making introductions to several notable guests including Staff Sergeant Karol Rehdner and CAO John Fortoloczky.
“We’re keen on doing a line by line analysis of our municipal budget to make sure that the money being spent is being spent to its best use. Last year we were able to deliver a small two per cent tax increase and we want to be very innovative as a council,” he said.
“We want to focus in on that point for chamber members because business is about the bottom line, and council is very cognizant and cautious about the expenditures we make.”
Vicktor acknowledged that small businesses are the life blood of every community and he noted the importance of managing the District in a business minded fashion.
The upcoming federal infrastructure program was brought to light as Vicktor spoke to the room about utilizing its benefits.
“There’s going to be a huge opportunity for communities in Canada to seek out infrastructure grants,” he said, commenting on problems like an aging infrastructure and concerns involving numerous potholes on Hope’s roadways.
According to Vicktor, council is committed to dealing with those issues head on.
With the uncertainty of global economics, Vicktor, discussed the importance of making use of first point infrastructure programs.
He also made note of Hope’s economic development potential, citing two new developments recently cultivated by AdvantageHOPE with the arrival of Dymin Steel and Maxforce Trailers, and the potential of attracting a demographic of income generating citizens and business based on the arrival of the Telus fibre optic cable.
“We have a huge opportunity to bring qualified people with high paying jobs here,” he said.
Dale Wheeldon, current president an CEO of the B.C. Economic Development Association, and member of the International Economic Development Council followed Vicktor’s closing remarks.
Wheeldon emphasized the importance of economic development and strategy, mentioning major differences of economic development everywhere in the province. However, he encouraged a smaller community like Hope to focus on its strengths and assets.
“Though you might not be able to see them at the time — others can see them,” he said of acknowledging those assets.
He encouraged the business community to look beyond the geographical boundaries in Hope and to take advantage of the surrounding outlying areas, up to a 45 km radius, alluding to the potential use of labour and land resources further down the valley in communities stretching all the way to Chilliwack.
Stating the importance of growing the local business community and cultivating youth entrepreneurship, Wheeldon suggested that the District revise and redevelop assets in the community like the downtown core while continuing to focus on the tourism sector.
Former Chiliwack-Sumas MLA John Les was the final presenter of the evening and spoke anecdotally about his experience as the MLA. He suggested being innovative with the simple things.
His advice to the Mayor was to get some plywood and to make a sign if he has to, whatever it takes to draw attention to the community and to promote it effectively.
Les put up a sign at one time that read “Chilliwack is open for business, call the Mayor,” which garnered attention and attracted business.
“I know that it’s effective, so the one thing I’m going to suggest you do is invest in some 3/4 inch plywood, find a good local painter to paint up a few signs coming and going from the community, and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if you got some good results out of that,” he said. “It’s not always the expensive and glitzy stuff that you do, sometimes it’s the simple things that really capture people’s imagination.”
Les also highlighted strategies for economic development, making a suggestion to work within varying tax developments, like creating tax holidays for new developments and promoting industry.
Another thing he said about economic development was to move with speed.“If you get a live bite on your hook, act quickly — I always found speed kills.”
He encouraged the idea of risk taking as a necessity at times in business and advised the room to form alliances and to make partnerships with surrounding First Nations communities.
“If I was living in Hope I would be pretty optimistic about the prospects of this community, clearly there are things that need to be done, but other communities have done it and you can do it too,” he said.