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What does the Oakville Chamber of Commerce do?

And how does it do it?
France Fournier | Oakville Chamber of Commerce
France Fournier | Oakville Chamber of Commerce

Oakville News sat down with France Fournier, Oakville Chamber of Commerce President, to learn how the chamber helps make a prosperous, liveable Oakville and how membership in the Chamber can help any business, from a startup to an established company.

This interview may be edited for length and coherence. 

ON: What is a Chamber of Commerce, and what do you do?

FF: The first Chamber of Commerce was founded 424 years ago in Marseille, France, and the main purpose remains the same, building community among businesses to seize opportunities and tackle problems they have in common. Some are called Boards of Trade, but whatever the name, the purpose is to group together to reach a common goal of building prosperous business communities.

ON: What does that translate into for you in Oakville?

FF: At the chamber, we work to connect businesses with each other, respond to needs, and advocate with governments. We are a highly adaptable network that seeks to collaborate within our community.

ON: Governments and businesses often seem not to be on the same page, but it sounds like you are about bridge-building?

FF: Of course, we have distinct roles, but we all work to create a thriving and prosperous economy. Striving for inclusive and sustainable economic growth is a key element and fundamental to our work.

ON: What kinds of things do you do to connect businesses with each other and with the resources they need?

Business After Hours | Rachel Leang
Business After Hours | Rachel Leang

FF: Our goal is to build a supportive community among our members by connecting members to each other and hosting events to bring the business community together. We host monthly networking events; Business After Hours is hosted by local businesses and regularly attracts upwards of 100 business owners. If you’re more comfortable in a more structured networking environment, members can attend Good Morning Oakville, where we foster networking with different approaches to help people to connect with each other.

Good Morning Oakville | Rachel Leang OCC
Good Morning Oakville | Rachel Leang OCC

ON: Actually, when I started my first business, I joined the chamber, got the membership list and called everyone in it, saying I was a new member and could they use my service. Members seemed really willing to help a new member, and that was the springboard that got me started. You may not make the phone ring, but you do help businesses grow at every stage of their development, in my experience.

FF: Thanks for sharing that story. For sure, the Oakville business community is incredibly supportive of each other; I am always happy to see chamber members collaborating! We talk with our members about building a supportive network. There is a sense of mutual self-help. That is one value of membership!

ON: The business community has come through some challenging times of late, with Covid-19, major challenges getting goods through the supply chain, and now inflation and labour shortages. When you talk about responding to needs, it’s a bit of a moving target, isn’t it?

FF: Exactly. The needs change all the time, and we draw on the resources of the Chamber network to respond. The Oakville Chamber is a member of both the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce, giving our members access to resources from across the province and country. Facilitating connections that harness one person’s experience or resources to help another is the same capability across the country. It is being put into service in diverse ways all the time.  Chamber staff are never bored and always challenged.

ON: In terms of advocating with government, what would be the big issues right now?

FF: Of immediate importance is the issue of transportation infrastructure: moving both people and goods effectively. This has been exacerbated by the supply chain challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic and by the growth of the community. With the projected growth mandated by the province, it is critical to get the required infrastructure in place prior to the development of projects such as Midtown. The chamber has written to the Minister of Transportation in support of re-activating the Kerr St. grade separation project, which was recently shelved by Metrolinx. Ease of traffic on Kerr St. and the introduction of GO electrification and 15-minute service can not proceed without the project.

ON: How does that relate to your membership?

FF: In a recent chamber survey, 31.5% of respondents listed transportation infrastructure as a critical issue to our economy. One of the key constraints on growth for Oakville-based businesses is the availability of employees, from entry-level up. Many potential employees live outside of Oakville and commute in or rely on public transit. Both present barriers in terms of traffic delays and the high cost of operating a car, as well as a public transit infrastructure that relies on multiple transfers to commute into the community. We see transit and denser housing as a key combination to managing Oakville’s growth and ensuring we have the labour availability to support the prosperity of our community through the growth of its businesses.

ON: Oakville has a reputation as a bedroom community, a place where many people leave to work, and many people who live elsewhere come to work in the service industries. It sounds like you think we should be working towards more of a live-in-Oakville, work-in-Oakville model?

FF: The pandemic has changed how, where and when people work. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce recently released a study on mobility patterns, confirming that workers have not returned to the office to pre-pandemic levels. We believe that hybrid work is here to stay and will, in turn, affect traffic patterns.  The chamber, in partnership with the Toronto Board of Trade, will be working on a study that will study the effectiveness of public transit in the GTA. We look forward to reviewing the outcomes and recommendations and how they could be implemented in Oakville. 

ON: Oakville News is also about connecting the community. Last question: why should a business join the Oakville Chamber of Commerce?

FF: We can accelerate your growth, connect you with resources to help you succeed, give you a community of like-minded business owners, help clear hurdles, and bring a strong voice in advocating for issues that affect the prosperity of your business. Joining the chamber will help your business grow and contribute to a thriving Oakville.