The Town of Clarenville’s annual municipal operating budget is due to be released on Tuesday, Dec. 18 — with a special meeting broadcast on Facebook Live at 4:30 p.m.
And while the town held a budget public consultation in October, with residents commenting suggestions on social media and submitting requests directly to the town hall, the only representatives who attended the meeting in person were from the Clarenville Chamber of Commerce.
At the meeting, chamber president Joe Twyne and past-president Richard Power reiterated their concerns from last year’s consultation — centering on business tax, the future of White Hills, a better website and fostering business growth in the community.
Ahead of next week’s budget, The Packet sat down with Twyne to discuss the specifics of the chamber’s suggestions, as well as the progress the town has made regarding the business community over the past year.
Twyne says he went into this year’s budget consultation with the approach of a report card of what happened in the previous year.
“I wanted to see if there was any thought put into (last year’s) requests and reiterate that it would be a good idea again,” said Twyne.
One of the specific requests regarding fostering business growth in the community included hiring an economic development officer for the town. While this is a position the town had in the past, Twyne says it is something that could benefit the economy in the community by attracting new businesses to set up in Clarenville.
This doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a brand-new employee for the town’s payroll, Twyne adds, it could be a position on a term basis, or just something with a consultancy or part-time work to help promote the community for prospective entrepreneurs.
“I wanted to say, let’s start and see if there’s some other options and work our way back up to a full-time employee, maybe,” Twyne said. “I strongly believe that if there’s someone who is dedicated to economic development and someone who is the face of the town to go to a new business trying to decide between Clarenville, Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, that person is the person to go to.”
He adds that the role could be one that follows up with these prospective businesses.
“If you devote some resources to such a person and give them a clear mandate … I think the benefits would be numerous.”
One of the changes of the past year between the municipality and the businesses in Clarenville — stemming from past budget consultation suggestions — includes the implementation of the mayor’s business advisory board, which includes meetings between members of council and the business community.
As chamber president, Twyne sits on this committee. He says the dialogue this creates is definitely a good thing.
“Do I think we should just talk ourselves to death and not take any action? No. I think that some tangible results need to come out of the conversation,” he said. “We’ve got eight or nine good business people around that table and any time those people can speak to each other. There’s a lot of things we learned that we didn’t know about the town and the way the town council and administration works.”
He says the key for the committee in the future is to set the goals and work to achieve them.
“We did get some results on the issues that were raised,” Twyne noted.
The economy at large
Twyne also believes that an economic development officer could eventually end up paying for itself through new business tax base, and contributing to the overall economy of the town as well.
He says with the economy in a lull, businesses are likely to cut back and save where they can. But, he says, these are the best times to invest in expansion or spend on advertising.
“In this economy, the way that it is now, with the housing market and Bull Arm (fabrication site) off-stream, although there is a short-term project in the future, generally the province and the oil in Alberta has gone really low — in these economic times, now is actually the time to focus on development.
“Money is still fairly cheap, interest rates are still fairly low and you need to really encourage people because they tend to shrink in a small economy,” he said.
Ultimately, Twyne says if there was a voice, in addition to that of the chamber, to tell people the benefits of acting in this economic environment as opposed to shying away — like a municipal position who could help with the work the chamber does — it would act as a benefit.
Clarenville Chamber of Commerce at a glance
• 115 members in Clarenville;
• volunteer-based board of directors, with one employee;
• fundraises with annual ornament and print sales, as well as trade show each year;
• provide services such as insurance programs for businesses;
• they host luncheons in partnership with other groups with guest speakers;
• can act as liaisons between government and businesses, including local concerns and funding inquiries;
• this upcoming year is the chamber’s 50th anniversary.