From left

Funding helps Parksville Chamber connect to businesses

Volunteers, policy makers to canvas hundreds of region’s businesses in February

The Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce is going to the dogs.

And to the restaurants, auto body shops and as many other businesses as it can during a local business walk in early 2016.

The Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce Walk on the Wild Side (WWS) will take place Feb. 16-18, 2016, during national Chamber of Commerce Week.

“We’re going to have teams going from door to door with questionnaires,” said Kim Burden, executive director of the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce. “Really, we have no idea what’s out there. We want to find out if people are doing well, why they’ve chosen this area and what we can do to help them.”

The chamber hopes to reach as many as 500 area businesses with about 50 volunteers expected to take part in the walks.

The business walk is being aided by a nearly $23,000 grant from the provincial Community and Employer Partnerships program.

Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell, the Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, announced the funding with Burden on Thursday at Wags Animal Care Centre in Parksville, a dog grooming, training and day care centre opened by transplanted Albertan Diana Eichler in March of 2015.

“It’s called walk on the wild side? So that’s why you’re starting with me,” Eichler joked.

The Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce has held a business walk once before, about five years ago, Burden said. But that walk was an unsupported effort he described as “loose and fast and rough.”

The Community and Employer Partnerships program funding has allowed Burden to hire two temporary staffers who will be devoted to the logistics and organization of the walk.

Kathy Kril and Susan Bergmann were hired under a program the government says was designed to connect British Columbians with classroom and on-the-job training, while making it easier for employers to hire skilled workers.

“For me, the excitement lies in meeting new people, listening to their successes and concerns, and working together to do great things,” Bergmann said in a press release. “My hope is to leave Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce with a comprehensive list of all the wonderful businesses in our area, and to have made a positive impression upon all of them.”

Burden said if the chamber learned one lesson in its earlier, “loose and exerough” business walk, it’s that local business owners appreciated the fact somebody cared and was willing to listen.

To that end, he is enlisting not only chamber volunteers, but municipal political leaders for roles in the walk.

“That’s one of the critical pieces of this,” Burden said. “There’s a reason we’ve set up seven teams of walkers — we’ve got six (City of Parksville) councillors and one mayor.”

And Stilwell is not exempt from the effort either, as she demonstrated with a number of questions for Eichler and her staff during Thursday’s tour of Wags.

“I’m really looking forward to participating in this Walk on the Wild Side business walk,” said Stilwell. “It’s a great opportunity to get in touch with local businesses to see how they’re doing. It’s also great work experience for Kathy and Susan who will be making great contacts in the business community and getting experience in marketing, report writing and communications.”

Burden agreed, noting the role of Kril and Bergmann will be far from ceremonial.

“From marketing, to the preparation of our list of questions to recruitment of volunteers, the logistics of this are fairly significant,” he said. “These two ladies have tremendous skills and good experience, but they just haven’t found the right fit for their job skills. This will be a great opportunity.”

The chamber, Burden said, hopes not only to get a more comprehensive list of businesses throughout the region, from Bowser to Nanoose Bay and Hilliers, but also to let the owners know of the many resources the chamber of commerce has at its disposal to help them succeed.

“Between Community Futures and a number of business subscriber services, we can make those resources available,” he said.

Another part of the survey will be finding out why owners set up shop in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region.

For Eichler, it was a natural fit. From the time she opened her doors in the Industrial Park area south of town, her business blossomed.

She has already expanded into the formerly vacant space next door, and is contemplating another expansion if business continues at the rate it’s been.

“I’ve been doing dog grooming and training for 11 years,” said Eichler, who previously contracted her services to a business in Alberta. “But for various reasons I couldn’t get my own business started there.

“My family lives here, and honestly, when I visited the mid-Island, I knew it was perfect. Plus, I have two kids and it’s a great place to raise them.”

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