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Chamber of Commerce focuses on youth
New board, executive elected; gala event aims to profile in community

Samantha Stokell
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 12, 2011

INUVIK - With an eye on the next generation of entrepreneurs, the Inuvik Chamber of Commerce hopes its new strategy of focusing on youth will keep its revival strong.

NNSL photo/graphic

Members of the Inuvik Chamber of Commerce elected a new board of directors and executive at its first AGM since restarting in November 2009. The freshly-minted members: back, from left, Dave Kaufman, secretary; John Ritchie, vice-president; and Abdullah Elbekai. Front, from left, Mike Ocko, Lee Smallwood, president; Ali Mirza and Joe Lavoie. Missing: Derek Lindsay, treasurer; and Cliff Stringer. - Samantha Stokell/NNSL photo

The Inuvik Chamber has had many starts and stops since its first establishment in 1981, but newly-elected president Lee Smallwood hopes that its rebirth in November 2009 will stick. At both the AGM on May 5 and gala event on May 6, Smallwood spoke of the importance of including youth in the business community if it wants to thrive.

"The young people have energy and enthusiasm and they're not afraid to try something new or take a chance," Smallwood said. "Eventually we will have to hand it over to all of them. We, the baby boomers, aren't going to live forever and if we can't make sure the people taking over are competent to take over, it will have a bad effect."

Smallwood plans to involve the youth in the business world by visiting the high school and college and encouraging businesses to hire young people.

Mary Ann Ross, vice-president of the Gwichin Tribal Council, spoke at the gala event about the importance of giving youth a chance.

"We have to do more for youth in our community and commit to an action plan to work with all sectors to employ youth," Ross said. "Graduate numbers are going up and we need to draw on these technology-savvy people. Someone encouraged us to do our best, so we should do something for them."

While the AGM was purely business with election of a new board and executive and yearly reports, Smallwood hoped to attract a younger audience to the gala with a catered dinner and dancing, as well as give back to the community.

In addition to ensuring Inuvik's economy remains profitable, Smallwood also wants to build relationships with the community. The gala raised money through an auction and ticket prices, which will go to the youth centre, homeless shelter and women's shelter.

"Only when we're making sure our profits flow back into the community can we achieve success," Smallwood said. "Our goal is to represent prosperous businesses in the community, and to create a partnership with the community, which then becomes part of our responsibility."

In addition to involving community organization and ensuring youth participation, the chamber also has goals to increase membership. As of May 3, only 24 of 43 members out of 170 businesses in Inuvik had paid chamber dues. Smallwood would like to increase that number to at least 60.

Arlene Hansen, owner of Originals and a chamber member, has owned her souvenir and gift shop for 20 years and said she has become a member whenever a chamber has operated. From this rebirth she would like to see an increase in information and communication from the chamber and to see it act as a lobby group for local businesses' concerns.

"If there are issues affecting businesses in Inuvik, I would like them to lobby for us. A group always has a louder voice," Hansen said. "I want them to keep me informed about what's happening and issues that affect us as a community and be a conduit between us and town council."

Although no members of town council attended the AGM on May 5, senior administrative officer Grant Hood spoke about the potential for Inuvik. Hood cited tourism, the potential of a fibre optic link to southern Canada, Arctic research, the Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik all-weather road and the more than $6 million in capital expenditures by the town as indications that Inuvik is ready for business.

"People don't know what Inuvik has to offer," Hood said. "The pipeline will be a boost to the region, but we don't want to put all our eggs in that basket. Other opportunities are available."

During the AGM, members also elected John Ritchie as vice president, Derek Lindsay as treasurer and Dave Kaufman as secretary, as well as five executive board members: Abdullah Elbekai, Mike Ocko, Ali Mirza, Joe Lavoie and Cliff Stringer.

The next chamber meeting will be sometime in June. Smallwood hopes to hold a networking event during the Inuvik Petroleum Show and further increase the chamber's profile in Inuvik.

"The community has to know that the chamber exists and is functioning," he said. "We're here and very much alive and open for business."

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