When it was founded in 1931, the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce was a place for local business owners, entrepreneurs, and professionals to meet and network, and to be a combined voice for local businesses.
While those are still among its key functions, it offers much more to the local business community in 2021, said CEO Colleen Clark.
“The Chamber has evolved over 90 years,” she said, but even over the last 10 to 15 there have been some pretty significant changes.
The basic numbers show that the Chamber has a big reach in Langley.
It boasts 940 businesses and individuals as members, including a few that have been members since the 1930s.
That’s down a bit from its pre-COVID peak of 1,100 in February of 2020. The pandemic hit local businesses hard, and some members have retired, sold their businesses, or are waiting to renew their memberships when things get back to some kind of normal, Clark said.
In addition to reaching 90 years old, the Chamber has been racking up other anniversaries. It’s been handing out the H.D. Stafford Good Citizen of the Year Award for 45 years now. The Chamber’s annual golf tournament has made it to 30 years old. Both events are now a bit older than some of the youngest members.
There are the annual Business Excellence Awards and the monthly dinner meetings – which have gone virtual recently, thanks to the pandemic.
On the education side, there are webinars and chances to hear speakers from the business community, as well as local politicians. Webinars scheduled for this fall include a multi-part series on developing networking skills, how to manage work and anxiety in an uncertain world, and building employee engagement.
The Chamber also provides practical help in the form of group health insurance plans – very popular with small businesses, Clark said, with about 300 members using it.
There are deals for members on everything from payroll solutions to office supplies to shipping to travel to gas discounts.
Some businesses save more money via the discounts and members programs than they pay in membership fees, Clark noted.
One of the ways the Chamber has evolved since 1931 is in its outreach to the wider world of business.
While it’s still Langley-focused, Langley-based businesses are active all over B.C., Canada, and internationally, seeking out customers and suppliers.
That mean that the Chamber has become increasingly active with both the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Clark is currently the president of the B.C. Chamber’s executive and is an advisor on their board, as well.
The B.C. and Canadian chambers are the main routes for local members to advance issues affecting small businesses up to a national audience. Resolutions passed by the provincial and national organization can get attention in Ottawa or Victoria – those resolutions may start as one member voicing a concern.
That’s a key reason for some of the longtime members sticking with the Chamber.
“We just see that it’s a true benefit, because the Chamber advocates on business’s behalf,” said Jack Nicholson, CEO of the Otter Co-op and a past president of the Chamber.
It’s also a place where members can “share our successes, and share our struggles,” he said.
Underlining the Chamber’s longevity is the fact that it is set to hand out certificates to a long list of local companies that have been members for decades.
The Langley Advance Times was founded the same year as the Chamber and has been a member for 90 years, but the Otter Co-op may have been a member as long – Clark said that was so long ago no one knows where the paperwork might have been for their original application, and the Co-op was founded before the Chamber.
Other organizations that have long membership records include TWU’s Spartan Athletics Program and Henderson’s Funeral Home, both of which have been Chamber members for 47 years.
Langley Langley Arts Council, BDO Canada LLP and the MacCallum Law Group LLP have been members for 46 years.
At least 15 organizations and businesses have been members for 40 years or more, and another 15 have been members for 35 years or longer.