The Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce has been named the best in its category by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce.

It salutes a year of multiple initiatives in support of local businesses, including the wildly successful Cochrane Loves Local campaign, helping find funding and direction for businesses through the pandemic, and having a larger presence in the community.

It's also a year in which they attracted 75 new businesses and are now 375 members strong.

Chamber executive director Kelly Carson says winning the award hadn't even crossed his mind when attending the Alberta Chamber's AGM and policy plenary session in Lethbridge. The nominator is also kept anonymous so they don't know who to thank.

"It's quite prestigious, there's no question about it," says Carson. "Along with the chamber board, we were elated to get it. I sent board members a note at 10 p.m. Saturday and everybody was on Cloud Nine."

It's been a time of reinvigoration and, in some cases, reinvention for the chamber that has been heavily aided by the hiring of Carson as executive director in late 2020.

Carson attended over 50 events representing the chamber and it had a positive impact.

"The phone started to ring with calls from people who wanted the chamber to be part of events. Building a relationship with the town means participating, talking, being a voice of the businesses to the town, and then going business-to-business talking to the people, and asking what can the chamber do for you? You get lots of ideas and you kind of change the direction of the chamber because you hear ideas of what people want."

In 2021, they launched a comprehensive Cochrane Loves Local campaign that quickly grew a following. They celebrated Small Business Week in October by buying coffee for residents at local coffee spots across town. The location was announced daily and the first 20 who responded received free coffee.

Since then, they've been asked by the town to take over the entire shop locally campaign that was previously split between the town and chamber.

"We were kind of walking on each other, so now we've got it all. They said you guys are doing a great job, so run with."

During the mass confusion and ever-changing health restrictions at the peak of the pandemic, they were the voice of the Alberta Government to help guide local businesses. Carson says that almost became a full-time job in itself.

One scenario saw Carson going from restaurant to restaurant letting them know decks could be established.

"Places like Ducks on The Roof got that message on Friday and on Saturday they were building a deck. That's how quickly things happened. I take credit for that for the simple fact that they didn't know who to phone, or what to do, so I went from restaurant to restaurant saying this is what you've got to do. It's being part of the community."

He says Cochrane issued 130 new business licences in Cochrane in 2021.

"Lots of those people came on board right away because they wanted to be part of the chamber. Now the next step is getting back in the room to network because that's what the chamber's all about."

The chamber won in the 200 to 450 member category, the second largest of four that includes such places as Airdrie. Only a handful of chambers are in the largest category.