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January 2019 - Ian McLean

Not business as usual

Chamber working beyond its borders for collaborative advantages

by Jon Rohr

It wasn’t business as usual at the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Greater Chamber of Commerce’s last meeting of 2018. Certainly, highlights were discussed. Ian McLean, GKWCC’s CEO, mentioned the partnerships that they have fostered, the number of events that they do. He also noted annual events in which the Chamber is a partner, like the Businesses Expo, where GKWCC partners with the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber members talked about the work they’re doing around the Immigration Partnership.

They also talked a lot about health care, because the Chamber has functioned as a community coordinator in terms of attracting doctors to the Waterloo Region. They compared 15 years ago, when there were about 44,000 citizens in the community in need of a doctor, with now, with only 18, 000 people still in need.

McLean tells Exchange that the gap continues because the community is growing and doctors are retiring in greater numbers, with new doctors not taking the same patient loads. He says ongoing promotion is important because “we’re competing in the country and across the province” for physicians.

The GKWCC is a “stable organization” says McLean, “that really needs to be seen as a community partner, for a lot of the things that we do.”

But they can’t do it all, so they partner, whether it’s with Communitech, Waterloo Economic Development, the LHIN, “all our social service agencies. The real strength of the Chamber is that we are a very positive and progressive chamber,” say McLean.

So what was unusual about this 130-year-old organization of like-minded business people? It turns out that over the past few years, McLean and his team at the Chamber have been very busy. This Chamber is addressing the problems we face as a thriving and growing business community. The Chamber has reached out in a unique and collaborative way and developed a Southern Ontario (GTA) network of Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade to support transportation funding. The collaboration also helped to accelerate the success of Ontario’s bid for the Super Cluster funding project.

Going for GO

Jan De Silva is President & CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade. She leads the Chamber of Commerce for Canada’s largest urban centre, representing 12,000 members and 200,000 business professionals. De Silva grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo, and since her parents live in Waterloo, she’s here frequently.

When McLean and De Silva connected, McLean says, “We saw the synergies between the business community we have, at both ends of the corridor… About three years ago, we said ‘How can we work together?’”

First on the agenda for the two chambers, was “the need for all-day, two-way GO.”

“Dumb luck or good timing, we were way ahead of other people, we are doing all the things that the federal government wanted.”

They started down that road. It quickly became apparent there were a lot of things they could do together. “We agreed,” says McLean, “that it would be more powerful, if it were all the Chambers along the corridor… So we went to Cambridge, Guelph, Milton, Halton Hills, Brampton, Mississauga, and Hamilton, and we got that group together and asked ‘What are the things that we could work on together?’ Transit, transportation – moving the goods and services, talent, are all issues that we all face. So we started working on those things together.”

And serendipity entered the picture, because “Two days before the meeting, the Federal government announced the Supercluster bid… That took us down that road… Dumb luck or good timing, we were way ahead of other people, we are doing all the things that the federal government wanted, [collaborating with] business, academia, municipalities – making sure ‘everyone is on the same page’.”

McLean says that collaboration with Toronto has grown from there, as the two Chambers consider “what can we do to really advance what we’re doing between Toronto and Waterloo.”

De Silva thinks about the GTA as an economic zone, Toronto to Waterloo, and “for marketing purposes it’s the Toronto and Waterloo Corridor, Canada’s Innovation corridor.”

An energizer for the GKWCC is the heightened level of influence it now possesses. Working with the other Chambers will provide an unprecedented foundation from which to collaboratively approach Queen’s Park. “There will be a lot of things that we’ll be doing when we go door knocking,” says McLean. He and De Silva plan to make a point of going to Queen’s Park “a couple of times… talk to the relevant ministers… whomever and whoever we need to, as a group that we co-chair”. They plan to let the key politicians know, “Here are the big issues that we face.”


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