Q & A with Chamber of Commerce executive director

An interview with Tammy Verigin-Burk about the Castlegar Chamber of Commerce and business in Castlegar.

Tammy Verigin-Burk has been the executive director of the Castlegar Chamber of Commerce for over three years. The Castlegar News asked her some questions relating to the scope of what the chamber does and the business climate of Castlegar.

Most people are familiar with the fact that the Castlegar Chamber of Commerce operates the visitor centre, but a lot of people aren’t sure what else the chamber does. Can you explain what the primary function of the chamber is?

Tammy Verigin-Burk: The Chamber of Commerce is primarily funded by chamber members, so our job is to serve our members. To serve them in any way we can to help them to succeed and keep their businesses thriving. We also work towards the retention of our businesses in town. We look at it like we are the 911 for business. When people call here, we should be able to have an answer as to where they can go to get the support they need.

We are always looking for different benefit programs that our chamber members can access. In particular, it is really challenging when you are a sole proprietor to get benefits like extended health and dental, but through the chamber you can get those benefits.

What is your relationship with the City of Castlegar?

TV:We play a role in liaising between the business community and the city. It is kind of an organic role. We want to always make sure we are really connected to the city so we know what is going on so we can suggest and support ideas that will really help businesses thrive. In the end, we also hope to attract new businesses.

The City of Castlegar also provides funding for us to operate the visitor centre. We had over 15,000 people physically come through the doors of the office last year, plus several thousand contacts through phone or email.

What services do you offer to local residents?

TV: We are recognizing that there are a lot of people who don’t know what goes on in the chamber office. We are really encouraging people to stop in and access the resources we have. We have everything from Castlegar pins to information and materials you may need to plan travel. We also have a lot of information for new people in town on everything from business opportunities to recreational features. If we don’t have the information, we will find it.

We also house Community Futures in our building which is a tremendous value for those looking to start a business or for businesses who need assistance. Alongside the aforementioned, we are the ambassadors for Imagine Kootenay, a website that provides investment, job and recreational information.

Lastly, the newest program in our building is the Destination Castlegar and District program that will be kicking in to high gear mid-March. Stay tuned for how the new program will be engaging locals with an opportunity to share their favorite gems in this area combined with an exciting contest.

You probably have contact with more members of the business community than almost anyone else in town, are there any common threads to the concerns you hear from our small town business owners?

TV: The common thread that I hear from businesses is when people do not shop local for products that are available here. There is often a misconception that it can be bought cheaper in a large city. I suggest on a regular basis for anyone considering to purchase a product abroad to first consult with a local business to see if they can match the price or come close to it. It is rare that a trip abroad for a purchase with all costs considered will come out cheaper than supporting your local business, neighbour or friend.

All of our local businesses are asked on a continued basis to support teams, fundraising efforts, provide door prizes, etc. Another reason to shop local. The more we support our businesses, the healthier our community is.

What do you predict the business climate will be like for Castlegar in 2016?

TV: I predict a steady increase in new storefront and home based businesses as we have seen in 2015 for several reasons. As the trend continues for people to consciously shop local for personal and professional needs, the requirement increases for existing and new businesses to fulfill this need. Also, the interest to have a business in Castlegar and District to fulfill the need is becoming contagious, with weekly inquiries.

Not only do people want to conduct business here they want to live and experience all that we have to offer. We are the hub of the West Kootenays with an exceptionally high volume of traffic that passes through on Highway 3. It is a central point to attract not only locals or tourists but over 80,000 people that call the West Kootenays home.

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