KELOWNA – The Kelowna Chamber celebrated its 32nd annual Business Excellence Awards gala with 475 of our closest friends on November 1st at the Delta Grand Hotel in Kelowna. Twelve winners in as many categories took the stage, spoke to the audience, and hoisted the hardware.

Surrounding each award was video of three finalists in each category, giving an opportunity for the audience to learn about all the finalists’ businesses, and definitely, many were in very close races, according to our independent judging panel.

Capping off the evening, we celebrated with Jeff Stibbard, founder and CEO of JDS Group of Companies, still known to many as JDS Mining. Jeff is one of those people you meet rarely anymore: an original, a real hands-on builder not just of mines and of businesses – but in his words “We build Canada.” An Honorary Colonel of the Royal Canadian Airforce, Stibbard characterizes his workplaces as some of the highest, deepest, coldest, hottest, remotest, most humid, driest, and riskiest locations on the planet. A very deserving Business Leader of the Year, and we’re lucky to have him right here in Kelowna, even though he is very seldom at home.

Other notable winners were Valens GroWorks Corp – nominated in three categories, and winner in two: Large Business of the Year, and Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Tyler Robson). Once again, our co-presenting sponsors Business Development Bank (with us from the beginning) and Farris LLP, helped ensure we had a successful evening, as did all our sponsors, guests, judges, nominees, finalists and winners. Helps shine a bright light on why business is at the heart of thriving communities, and how the Chamber helps incorporate their wins into business success.

Dan Rogers, Executive Director for the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce

Dan Rogers, Executive Director for the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce

Speaking of wins, I want to highlight a few policy wins over the past little while. First, we had an important recycling policy adopted at the BC Chamber in May of this year, and one of its recommendations was raising the per unit deposit rate to incentivize consumer recycling, particularly of plastic bottles. The province of BC raised rates November 1st – something Deputy Minister (Environment & Climate Change Strategy) Mark Zacharias hinted at when we met with him mid-summer and made our ask. Good to see progress on this policy front. Now to complete the recommendations around reverse vending to ease the return process for consumers.

The second policy win was announced earlier this week, following a Kelowna Chamber policy dating from 2017 “Providing Certainty for Business Through the Timely Administration of Justice.” A complicated policy with three main asks, the crux is that when businesses cannot get access to the justice system in a timely manner, investment decisions are delayed and frustration builds. Businesses which can resolve their disputes quickly and efficiently can spend their time and resources on growing their business and creating jobs in British Columbia. The undeniable fact is that reducing court backlogs will accomplish this. Since a major source of delays and backlogs in the court system is the increase in people who do not have the assistance of a lawyer, an increase in legal aid rates was one of our primary asks. On October 18th, the provincial government reached a new deal with the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers and the Legal Services Society. This is the first rate increase in 13 years, and while other changes to address underfunding are still required, this is still a step forward for access to justice in BC.

Big news in the local fruit packing industry, as Kelowna’s Sun-Rype Products, one of the biggest employers in the valley, entered into a sales agreement October 29 with Lassonde Industries. Sun-Rype has two US affiliates in Washington which are part of the Jim Pattison Group deal. Sun-Rype employs about 400, while Lassonde has 2,200 people on its payrolls across 15 plants in Canada and the US. The deal is worth $80 million; Lassonde’s CEO said “This transaction is part of our strategy of constant and measured growth, and will strengthen our presence in the Canadian and US markets.” The agreement is pending acceptance at this point.

Our Policy Development Forum is coming up fast, here in Kelowna on November 15th. Industry and business leaders will join us to wrangle with policy and advocacy issues that are burning through their sleep at night – we expect to hear a lot about transportation issues delaying commerce; taxation and regulatory issues (always, but they need fixing); impediments to agricultural growth; and no doubt, lots of other good discussions will develop over the three hour session. We’ll be joined by our collegial chambers from up and down the valley, and are looking forward to getting ready for the 2020 policy year.

I want to welcome our newest members to the Kelowna Chamber: Vivid Tours; The Wax Shop; Advanced Home Care Solutions; Synergy Gymnastics Centre, Inc.; Booster Juice and Namaste Day Spa. You have all joined the largest Chamber in Interior BC, and one of the most dynamic policy teams in Canada. We know you’ll find our relationship relevant and rewarding over the coming years.

Dan Rogers is Executive Director of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce