Bringing business leaders together for mutual success
If British Columbia were a dartboard, the city of Prince George would very nearly be the bull’s-eye, directly in the centre.
A bustling community of 80,000 people, but with amenities for 300,000, Prince George is known as the capital of northern British Columbia. Natural resources form the economic cornerstone of the community, but with a diverse enough portfolio of forestry, mining and oil and gas that it stays relatively stable, in spite of the boom and bust nature of those industries.
It also boasts a premier educational institution in UNBC, as well as top tier medical facilities.
Those are all things that make Christie Ray, the Prince George Chamber CEO of three years, proud of her community. It’s also what made her decide to host a Chamber of Commerce Business Development Forum last year, bringing together small to medium sized business leaders in natural resource industries.
The event was so successful that she decided to do it again this year, in partnership with the BC Chamber, on Jan. 31.
A Prince George Success Story
It becomes obvious in the first two minutes of talking to Ray that she loves Prince George. While the natural resource side of the community is known internationally, the first thing she talks about is the culture and amenities the city offers.
“Prince George is the centre of business, education – even things like entertainment and dining, that type of thing,” she said. “Health care is based here, we have world-class sports facilities and theatre – different things like that. Those aspects aren’t as well known about Prince George unless you’re in the area.”
Ray graduated from UNBC in 1998 with a degree in commerce with a major in marketing. She was one of the first graduates who did all four years of her degree on the campus.
Now, nearly 20 years later, that first batch of graduates is starting to pick up the torch. “These people are taking leadership roles in organizations,” Ray explained. “They’re politicians, business owners, professionals of all sorts – really, the impact of UNBC is starting to become extremely large.”
But for all of the amenities Prince George boasts, she said it still has a small-town feel to it, and has held on to a strong sense of community spirit. When it comes to getting things done, Prince George shows up.
“As a community we really excel when it comes to volunteerism and fundraising,” she said. Ray cited Relay for Life, which raises money for cancer research. This year, Prince George raised $540,000 – more than any other city in Canada. It has topped the nation’s relays for the last two years, again with over $500,000 raised in 2015, and a record-high of $600,000 the year prior.
“We’ve been able to make a lot of headway in the past few years specifically, appealing to younger professionals, the startup community, a lot of women; we’ve made a lot of headway in the message that the Chamber image in Prince George is shifting.”
That’s part of what has kept Ray coming back to Prince George, despite several moves “chasing adventures” across Canada. She and her husband Oliver, another UNBC grad, now executive director of the North Central Local Government Association, have lived in eight different communities across Canada. But Prince George is where they settled.
“It’s a community that’s very easy to get into and be part of helping to create positive change,” she said. “That’s something that I’m very much about, from a personal standpoint, and that the Prince George Chamber is about – helping to move the community forward, not just from a business standpoint, but as a full community.”
That’s where the Chamber of Commerce Business Development Forum comes in.
Bringing everyone together
Geared towards small to medium sized businesses, the Chamber of Commerce Business Development Forum will answer common questions around the future of BC’s natural resource sector, how to tap into the potential and how to work with First Nations to achieve mutual objectives and success.
And it’s no accident that it’s scheduled for Jan. 31, immediately preceding the Premier’s BC Natural Resource Forum. “It’s an excellent way to leverage the fact that there are a whole variety of people already in the community to attend that, and a lot of them are small to medium sized businesses, or people that want to connect with that group,” Ray explained. “We created a one day forum that deals with topics that are really of more concern to either individuals who are running companies or high level management of those types of companies.”
The forum will boast several high profile speakers, including Ellis Ross, past Chief Councilor of the Haisla Nation, and Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Initiatives like the forum are part of the Prince George Chamber’s ongoing commitment to refreshing the Chamber’s image and brand.
“We’ve been able to make a lot of headway in the past few years specifically, appealing to younger professionals, the startup community, a lot of women; we’ve made a lot of headway in the message that the Chamber image in Prince George is shifting,” said Ray. “A lot of new people are getting involved – not that we’re alienating the older target at all, we’re just really expanding who we’re appealing to, and that’s been going really well.”
Member engagement is also strong. Ray said the Chamber has been working hard to make sure that members’ needs are regularly assessed and responded to, and they’ve been seeing results as members get more engaged.
“There’s excitement around the Chamber due to the fact that our image is changing,” said Ray. “We are seen in the community as change makers.”