CANMORE – Businesses in the Bow Valley felt the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and are continuing to recover from two lockdowns over the past year.
At the Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting, members heard a recap for 2020 with COVID-19 featuring heavily in the presentations.
Cheryl Cooper, the chamber’s president for 2019 and 2020, called it “unprecedented times,” but they continue to be “there for the businesses and that’s what our sole purpose is.”
She said in 2019 the board built a foundation to expand the chamber’s work to help businesses, but 2020 heavily impacted the entire community.
While the pandemic took up the majority of the group’s efforts, she told the roughly two dozen attendees they “accomplished a great deal.”
The chamber was able to create new policy documents, marketing guidelines and branding strategy, while also rolling out a new website. The board of directors was also approved to allow a maximum of nine members compared to the previous five.
The amount of in-person events the chamber could run was limited to four before the pandemic was declared, but they were able to use virtual platforms to run Bevvies and Business to help connect business owners. A “Post COVID-19” webinar was over several weeks held to allow discussion and to share ideas with more than 90 attending.
The chamber’s newsletter was also increased during the height of the pandemic to highlight and update programs available for businesses to apply to. The FanSaves Helps gift card program was brought in and a campaign was launched to emphasize buying local and will continue this year.
Cooper noted how they worked with the Canmore's Downtown Business Improvement Area on the reopen strategy and contributed with higher level groups to advocate for businesses.
The group also administered the Bow Valley Restart Fund, which doled out $107,724 to 39 Bow Valley-area businesses.
While local businesses struggled, so too did the chamber’s fiscal books.
After earning $94,930 in revenue in 2019, it dropped to $65,672 last year, but programming costs declined by about $30,000 to leave a gross margin of $58,961 in 2020. After having a gross margin of $61,270 in 2019, it meant a decline of about $3,000.
Expenditures increased from $45,215 in 2019 to $65,647 in 2020 and net assets dropped from $22,261 at the beginning of 2020 to $15,575 by the end of the year.
The chamber’s accountant, Natalie Kelly, said it was in a “good position” when considering the financial impacts of COVID-19.
For 2021, it budgeted revenues of $59,400 and expenditures of $52,410 as Kelly said those were more conservative projections.
Cooper said the chamber began 2020 with 270 members, but dipped to 216 as of March 16, with the bulk being located in Canmore. The decline was largely due to businesses not being able to afford or justify the membership expense because of COVID-19, Cooper added.
With a focus on 2021, it has held four in-person events and has 18 more planned this year, including Small Business Week Oct. 18 to 22.
Cooper, who will assume the role of past-president with Ben Davis taking the top spot, said a goal will be building up the membership and involving businesses throughout the valley.
The not-for-profit group is 100 per cent membership funded, without receiving regular provincial or federal funding.
“Our mission for the Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce is to help to sustain a successful business community in the Bow Valley by elevating, connecting and advocating for our members and our businesses," Cooper said.
“In spite of the challenges this has presented many of us this year, with the help of our board members, the Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce, I feel, is stronger than ever. I’m really proud of what we’ve done this year and what we’ve accomplished.”