Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce

May 2021 | Community Profiles

The health of a community and the health of its business sector are linked together says Kim Smythe, CEO of The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, also known as the Nanaimo Chamber. 

“It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing,” he says of the relationship. “You can’t have a healthy community without healthy businesses. And you can’t have healthy businesses without a healthy community.” 

There is growing recognition among st Nanaimo’s businesses that these two things feed positively into each-other, and Smythe is advocating for businesses to be more involved in creating a healthy community and in solving issues like homelessness. 

Founded in 1889, the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce is an advocate and representative of the business community, working to improve businesses’ chances of success by removing obstacles and impediments in its way. Smythe became CEO in 2013 after being a volunteer and a director on the board. 

Normally, the chamber puts on 50-60 events a year, from Thursday night markets downtown to luncheons, golf tournaments, awards and more, including breakfasts with guest speakers like B.C.’s finance minister. 

The Greater Nanaimo chamber of Commerce takes no government funding but raises funds through events and fee-for-service arrangements. 

Though many of the chamber’s events have had to be cancelled for now or made virtual, the chamber also advocates for business interests, welcomes new businesses and promotes Nanaimo to business interests, as well as working in tourism and economic development. 

Professional development and education around pandemic regulations have also been a major part of the chamber’s role in the past year. It works to connect businesses to government programs and funding, advise on what programs will help which businesses most, and do its best to keep struggling businesses going, like local restaurants. 

“We feel that one of our greatest contributions we can make to the community is helping them figure out how to cut expenses, increase sales, optimize for profit. Whether it’s a not-for-profit organization or for-profit organization, we apply the same things,” says Smythe. 

When it comes to Nanaimo’s homelessness issue, Smythe wants to see businesses be part of the solution.  

“It’s very difficult for me to attract somebody to move their business to Nanaimo or to expand into Nanaimo if, when they come to Nanaimo, they have an unpleasant experience because of social disorder and an excessive homeless population with nowhere to go,” says Smythe. 

“So they look at me and go, ‘Gee, you’ve got a real problem here. I don’t know if I want to participate in the community,’ where I’m saying, ‘Why don’t you come here and participate in the community and help solve some problems by helping our economy grow and become better?’” 

Smythe says Nanaimo’s business owners have the motivation to help solve the issue of homelessness, and they are compassionate as well, but that they are frustrated by a lack of results. 

“Whenever there are negative interactions, it’s always the business first who says, ‘I feel really sorry for these people, but I can’t have them breaking into my business all the time. What can we do?’ Well, we can help improve the situation amongst the homeless so that they aren’t so desperate so that they aren’t turning to crime to get some relief from the situation.  

“Businesses are 100-per-cent understandable of that. Businesses here are very compassionate, and they really want to help. But they want to see some results for their patience and their support and willingness in the community, and that’s what’s so very hard to maintain for them, is some element of patience. Some reason to be patient. They pay their tax dollars and they expect the government that they pay taxes to to have their back, so they get very frustrated when they are faced with the challenges of a rising street population, things like that.” 

Smythe notes that local businesses are becoming more and more tolerant of their homeless neighbours, and that much of the theft that local malls outside of downtown experience is not coming from the homeless community. 

As a member of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, Smythe says he hopes to create an effective seat at the table for business to help enact effective solutions to homelessness in Nanaimo. 

“What I want to communicate [to the business community] is that this is all our problem. This isn’t city council’s problem, this isn’t our MLAs problem. It’s not the problem of social service agencies. It’s everybody’s problem. We all have to work together to discover solutions and to then effect those solutions in many different ways in our lives. 

“And what I want to tell the other side of the table is that the business community is here to help. The business community has significant concerns and isn’t here just to suppress the problem or hide it away or put it behind a door some place, but to come up with effective solutions that stops the increase in homelessness, treats the people who need treatment, and protects those who need protection.” 

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