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Think regionally, SOCC president tells Osoyoos Rotarians
More can be accomplished when local communities think and act regionally, South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce (SOCC) President Myers Bennett told Osoyoos Rotarians last week.
Bennett, who is also a Rotarian, was guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Osoyoos’ Thursday lunch meeting last week.
He spoke about SOCC’s successes since chambers in Osoyoos, Oliver and Okanagan Falls amalgamated five years ago.
He also, however, emphasized that more can be done when these South Okanagan communities speak with a single voice, whether it be requesting highway improvements, seeking a location for a regional airport, obtaining a shuttle bus or capturing the benefits brought by a new correctional facility to be built north of Oliver.
Bennett was the SOCC’s first president after the chambers amalgamated. He was returned to that position in January when SOCC held its annual general meeting and business awards night.
If Osoyoos by itself complained about the condition of Highway 97, it wouldn’t be heard by government, Bennett suggested. On the other hand, if South Okanagan communities address the government with a single voice, they would more likely be heard, he said.
Similarly, while Bennett was not able to disclose current developments in the effort to get a shuttle bus service to Kelowna Airport, he pointed out that Robert Lintell spoke to every community and chamber of commerce to get the entire region on board.
An announcement about the shuttle service is expected in July, Bennett said.
With regard to a local airport, Bennett said he believes Oliver would be a better candidate for expansion than Osoyoos because it has more room. The important thing, however, is for the region to pick one location and support it rather than pitting the communities against each other, he said.
Another effort he pointed to is the Highway 97 Corridor being promoted by Westbank and Norm LeCavalier, co-chair of the Greater Westside Board of Trade.
This tourism initiative aims to promote Highway 97 from Vernon to Wenatchee, WA and recent discussions have led to interest from a number of communities along the highway.
Although SOCC isn’t a tourism board anymore, with Destination Osoyoos taking on that role, many SOCC members are in the tourism industry, Bennett noted.
“We’re for anything that develops business,” he said of the initiative.
Bennett also discussed the economic benefits that will be brought by the construction and operation of the correctional facility north of Oliver.
The SOCC has put together a database of the contractors and trades offered by local businesses that can contribute to the project, he said.
He noted that Plenary Justice, the company developing the facility, operates throughout North America and will need to contract much of its labour for the project locally.
Many people employed by the facility will need to find local housing and it makes sense to promote Osoyoos, Oliver and Okanagan Falls in a single package, he said.
Bennett said he sees the new facility as a positive development for the area and he doesn’t share the concerns of those who believe it will bring crime to the region.
Prisoners, he said, will be serving short sentences for less serious crimes.
Bennett also believes the recently announced decision by WestJet to offer flights through Penticton will bring economic benefits to the area. People working in northern B.C., northern Alberta or areas in Saskatchewan such as the oil and gas industry in Kindersley will also benefit from the service, he said.
While Bennett spoke about a number of developments bringing benefits to local businesses, he mentioned one measure that has been stopped in its tracks – an initiative to legalize marijuana.
After seeing the economic benefits that legalization is bringing to Colorado, SOCC put forward a resolution calling for legalization here. Chambers in the Okanagan approved it, Bennett said.
The B.C. Chamber, however, didn’t want to approve it because it would be controversial if it went forward during 2015, a federal election year.
“I don’t think the B.C. Chamber really wants to deal with the questions around it,” he said. “It’s kind of a touchy area right now, so they were saying please don’t do it.”