I have to say my first interactions with Chambers of Commerce and industry associations was not particularly positive. It was in the mid 1990s and I couldn’t really figure out what they were doing. At the time, ACOA was pumping a pile of cash into a number of industry groups and one mandarin complained to me that all they got for the cash was an industry directory and an annual golf tournament.
I had been researching economic development in the United States and in many particularly southern States Chambers of Commerce were self-funding economic development. They had teams of sales staff out hustling industry to move to their community. In my opinion, in New Brunswick we got networking sessions and golf tournaments.
Since then I have started to become a big fan of these groups – in general – the intermediaries that represent an industry or a segment of the economy. Groups like Chambers, CFIB, CENB, NBBC, industry associations, etc. I like them as a category although certainly some are stronger than others.
The case for these intermediaries is stronger than ever. Forget BBQs and online directories, many industries are struggling with fundamental issues of workforce development, entrepreneurship development, productivity, export market development along with the standard government advocacy work around regulation, taxes, etc.
It is much harder for individual firms to address most of these issues but if they throw a few hundred bucks into a pot, they can band together to address important issues – again not golf tournaments – issues that are fundamental to the bottom line.
I have said before I am a big fan of the Fredericton Chamber and particularly Krista Ross. She is not your typical Chamber CEO. She is everywhere – working on a broad range of issues – lobbying, chiding, advocating, implementing concrete initiatives. John Wishart in Greater Moncton is, in my opinion also doing very good stuff – and it is important to point out I don’t get any revenue from those groups – I just like the cut of their jibs.
I have clients, such as the Tourism Industry Association of NB, that have also broadened their role in recent years – they have a very solid tourism workforce development plan and are diligently working to meet the objectives (disclosure I was involved in its development).
Now could be a golden era for these groups. It is hard to find an industry these days that isn’t facing a host of important sector-wide challenges. This is where the ‘intermediaries’ come in.
So through 0.02% of your revenue into a pot and work with your peers to address the challenges of our time as they relate to your industry. Demand quality and accountability but now, more than ever, is the time for these groups to shine.