Chamber Leaders in Action: Louise Ranger, North Vancouver Chamber

Nov 1, 2016 3:41:00 PM

louise.jpgReinventing the Chamber as an economic development office

The North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce has recently had a facelift. Their outdated logo, featuring three large mountains, has been replaced with a sleek, multi-coloured sphere and modern font for a cleaner, more modern look. They also dropped the ‘of commerce’ from the end of their name.

“We really wanted our new logo to reflect the unique assets of North Vancouver, such as the mountains, rivers and waterfront,” explained Louise Ranger, the North Vancouver Chamber’s CEO for the past four years. “We also wanted a slight First Nations art feel to it, to express our respect and our geographical connection. We are thrilled with the end result.”

There’s more to the logo redesign than just a fresh new look. It also signals a pivot the Chamber made to take on the role as the economic development office for North Vancouver.

Setting the scene

Ranger started her career  in office and personnel management at an employee benefits firm in Vancouver.  She  then joined an international shipping company, as the Manager of HR and corporate services.  She moved to Whistler in 1998 and began working for the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation. “That was an interesting transition from a corporate environment where I had budgets in the millions to a non-profit organization with very limited budgets,” she said.  “I actually relished the challenge of trying to execute a big project or achieve a huge goal and having to figure out how to pay for it. That’s what all non-profits go through. It makes the job twice as hard, but strangely it’s also twice the fun for me.”

Ranger believes it’s all about building relationships. “As a leader of a Chamber, you have to have strong relationship building skills. You’re often working with people and organizations with different mandates and concerns;  governments, large and small business leaders and community members – it’s a critical skill set,” she said.

“I realized early on that there was no active coordination for economic development and in particular land use planning. Neither municipality had an economic development officer, and they have separate community plans. We felt that the Chamber had an important role to play in establishing a coordinated body for economic development for the region.”

Before taking her current position in North Vancouver, she served as the President of the Whistler Chamber.  She soon discovered that the communities were very different.  Whistler’s economy is grounded in Tourism, North Vancouver has a far more diverse business environment.

For one thing, there are the various governmental bodies, including two First Nations bands, two municipalities, and a federally regulated port. “It can be complicated coordinating all these groups when it comes to economic planning around land use, transportation and housing,” said Ranger.

North Vancouver has one of the largest commodity ports in the World exporting Canadian commodities to international markets. It also boasts a thriving film and television industry, two of the largest tourism attractions in Canada (the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain) and is home to many public and private sector headquarters, including Arc’teryx, A&W and ICBC. Small business is also flourishing – 65 per cent of North Vancouver businesses have fewer than five employees.

Complexities aside, Ranger found a friendly, supportive business community and built strong relationships with key stakeholders. “I realized early on that there was no active coordination for economic development and in particular land use planning. Neither municipality had an economic development officer, and they have separate community plans. We felt that the Chamber had an important role to play in establishing a coordinated body for economic development for the region,” she said.

Bracing for a boom

In 2011, Seaspan Shipbuilding announced they had won the bid for the Federal Government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. An eight billion dollar contract for non-combat vessels to be built over the next 20 to 30 years.  This signaled the official return of shipbuilding, a traditional industry for North Vancouver dating back to the late 1800s.

“With this significant federal investment in our backyard, we wondered how local businesses are going to be able to participate in this opportunity, and what was the long-term legacy for North Vancouver?” Ranger asked. “We saw an opportunity for the Chamber to play an important role in coordinating stakeholders to work together.”

“Although our Chamber is 110 years old, we didn’t want to look 110 years old.”

Ranger applied for three years of funding from the Western Economic Diversification Program, which requires 50 per cent matching funds. Ranger pitched the idea to several  industry leaders, both municipalities, the Port of Vancouver and BDC, and outlined their plan to form a collaborative partnership between business, first nations and local government. They all bought into the concept and the matching funds were raised.  The application for the  Western Economic Diversification funding was approved in June 2015. “We invited a senior representative from every major industry sector, both municipalities, first nations, the Port of Vancouver, and BDC to join the new board to advise and oversee the program,” said Ranger. “The group called the Program the Economic Partnership North Vancouver.”

Getting to work

Since they were given the green light in June, the Chamber has hired three new staff members, renovated their offices to accommodate them, and formed the Economic Partnership’s board of directors. 

The Economic Partnership needed a logo. “Our Chamber logo was so dated looking,” Ranger said. “Although our Chamber is 110 years old, we didn’t want to look 110 years old.”

And with a fresh, modern office, a new team and a new initiative, the Chamber didn’t want to use the old Chamber logo. “I said there’s no way I’m putting the old logo on the door of our new office,” Ranger laughed.

They wanted a credible, modern new image for the Chamber and so it was decided; there were two logos to create. “At first we were thinking about creating a unique logo for the economic partnership, but in the process we realized we needed two new logos that would be cohesive and reflect the Chamber brand” explained Ranger. “We questioned how to approach the two logos. Should each have its own look and feel or should it be one logo with different titles? In the end, we decided that the Economic Partnership is a Chamber program, initiated by the Chamber, led by the Chamber, so it would be part of the Chamber.” The new logos and revised website were launched on October 20.

A strength throughout Ranger’s career, particularly in moving from corporate life into the non-profit world, has been relationship building. “Non-profit positions don’t pay as much as the corporate world, but I really like the idea of making a difference and giving back to the community.  I enjoy supporting and helping business and bringing people together to solve big challenges. The Chamber is a good fit for me,” said Ranger.

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