VERNON – The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s (GVCC) call for the Province to take a more active role in supporting cideries and wineries got the green light from delegates attending the recently held BC Chamber AGM in Kelowna. The issue was brought forward by a number of Chambers from around the province including Kamloops, Duncan and Penticton.

“While most production that occurs on agricultural property isn’t viewed as light industry, when alcohol is involved in that product, the building is viewed by BC Assessment as being light industrial and in most cases subject to significantly higher property taxes,” says Tracy Cobb-Reeves, president, GVCC. “This is a real barrier to development and job creation at land-based wineries and cideries and we believe the province should review the issue.”

The BC Chamber AGM brings together approximately 200 delegates from Chambers across BC to vote on new business/economic policies. This year delegates voted on a near record 55 proposed policies. Notable policies that were supported included keeping daylight savings time throughout the year, protection of industrial lands for future prosperity, and supporting Canada’s responsible resource development.

Chambers provide a voice for small businesses on matters that could impact their operations and ultimately their bottom line. Chambers don’t talk a lot about their advocacy efforts but their members and the broader business community are well served by the chamber’s continual efforts to advocate for policies that will build a stronger economy and sustainable communities.

Cobb-Reeves was joined at the BC Chamber AGM by Greater Vernon Chamber vice-president Dauna Kennedy Grant, and past president Jaron Chasca. Next year’s BC Chamber AGM is in Victoria.

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In other news from the North Okanagan, politicians from the Greater Vernon area were upbeat about business opportunities while providing their annual update to members of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce last month.

The Annual Local Government Leaders Breakfast brought together the Mayors from the City of Vernon and District of Coldstream along with the Chair of Board for the Regional District of North Okanagan. Chair Rick Fairbairn said regional planning was underway on an employment lands action plan which will support light industrial and business expansion in the region.

“No one community has all of the assets required to attract a large employer,” says Fairbairn who added that neighbouring communities are cooperating to get things done.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed by the regional district, the Okanagan Indian Band, the District of Spallumcheen and the electoral area to further pursue opportunities for businesses development in the area just north of the City of Vernon.

Fairbairn also reminded the business audience that agriculture is still big business in the region, bringing in $126 million annual and accounting for five per cent of the labour force in the North Okanagan.

Meanwhile Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund was singing the praises of new development that is occurring. “Our priority is to welcome new business and development,” says Mayor Mund who noted a number of large projects underway in the City that has resulted in large cranes dotting the Vernon skyline for the first time in recent memory.

In terms of growth, Mund said, “There is building going on everywhere (in the city).” He said the next big structure to go up would be the new ice sheet at Kal Tire Place and then Council will sit down and start work on a facilities master plan to meet the needs of our residents that would include looking at possible new cultural facility and a new RCMP building.

Coldstream’s Mayor was unable to attend the annual event but his director of development came in his place and was also upbeat about the growth in the municipality. “We’re going strong,” says Mike Reilly referring to building statistics showing growth in Coldstream. “We’re well over the slow times of 2008 and back to pre-slump numbers.”

Attainable housing was also an issue that got the attention of the local politicians though none said it would be easy to address.

“It has been an issue for the last ten years in just about every community,” says Mund. “Any solution has to be collaboration between federal, provincial and local governments as well as developers who have to buy into the concept of increased density.”

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Finally welcome to the newest members of the Greater Vernon Chamber; Outboard Waterfront Pub, Club Appetite Inc. and Coldstream Technical Ltd.

– Dan Rogers is the General Manager at the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at