'Everyone was doing their best': Kamloops Chamber of Commerce reflects on 2020

Unknown a big challenge

The biggest challenge local businesses faced in 2020 was the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic.

That's according to Acacia Pangilinan, the executive director of the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce. 

She tells Castanet the majority of businesses she and her team connected with expressed the sentiment.

"Really, we’re all subject to what the public health guidelines are. That sense of uncertainty was really challenging for people because it was really hard to overcome," she says.

"In our conversations with business owners, trying to get them to look at their own internal operational plans and to look for inefficiencies and see where they can potentially change their operations, there was still that sense of panic because there was so much that was unknown, early on in the pandemic."

Pangilinan notes the chamber interviewed more than 115 different businesses in the summer, as things were starting to reopen. 

"Everyone was doing their best," she says. "Many people were concerned about the second wave that we're in now."

Despite the fact things could change on a dime, Pangilinan says the business community in Kamloops has been incredibly resilient, especially hard-hit industries like tourism and hospitality.

"They figured out ways to pivot their business and provide their services in ways that they never could before."

Some industries in town, like manufacturing and grocery retailers, didn't experience a negative impact from the pandemic. 

"Those companies didn't stop. If anything, there was more demand for them," she says.

Local arts organizations also adapted to COVID-19, and brought forward virtual performances. 

"That's resiliency. That's grit and that's what our business community did well."

Part of helping local businesses includes lobbying the three levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal) on their behalf, Pangilinan explains. She says the chamber advocated for changes to the emergency wage subsidy, "a lifeline for businesses," as well as changes to the Canada Emergency Business Account.

"The data we’ve collected over the whole year is channeled to the province through the BC Chamber (of Commerce) and to the federal government through the Canadian Chamber (of Commerce), and we can actually see the voices from our community really being heard at that national and provincial level," she adds, noting the chamber also brought forward recommendations to the mayor's recovery task force.

Another big highlight for the Kamloops chamber was going forward with its 34th annual excellence awards, which were organized to keep in line with COVID-19 safety protocols.

"We were able to recognize 13 unique local businesses while supporting the hardest hit industries in the pandemic, so hospitality, restaurants, event services, directly infusing over $40,000 into the local economy, just in one night," Pangilinan says.

"I’m incredibly proud of that, and our team is and our board is and the fact that we could take an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the hard work of the people that are in our community running our businesses during this time was incredible."

Asked what the chamber could have done differently in 2020, the executive director says her staff could have done a better job at being more vocal on behalf of businesses. She gives the example of the fitness industry.

"They didn't feel like anybody was in their corner, and that's something we're really working at doing better.

"But it takes time and it takes the right insight, so we spent a great deal of time listening this year, and we'll continue to do that."

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