The membership, activities, and impact of the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce continued to flourish in 2022. That momentum is expected to continue into 2023.
True, it's a business-based organization, says its executive director Kelly Carson, but at its heart is also supporting the town's vast community spirit.
He pointed to events like Light Up and the Labour Day Weekend remaining special and how there's practically something unique every weekend filling the calendar.
And then there's the recent visit by the CP Holiday Train that saw the community rally to raise $22,000 and donate a massive amount of nonperishable items to the Cochrane Activettes Food Bank.
He points to how people were ready to stop and help in an instant during last week's prolonged cold snap.
"As I drove around and helped people, it was amazing to see all the other people helping too. Nobody thought anything of it. It's just what you do, and that's a tremendous thing. It brings a tear to my eye when I see that stuff. Our community is so strong."
"The culture of our community is fantastic," says Carson. "I've been in a lot of other towns, and many don't have a culture like this. It's one created by people who strongly believe in what we're doing here. That's why people want to come here and open businesses."
The chamber is nearly 400 members strong and has grown by 170 over the last two years.
Carson says they were represented at over 74 events this year and actively participated in 30 of them.
"It's being noticed by people because they want the chamber to come to their event and be involved in their event, and we're more than happy to. The more people that get hold of me and said they'd love for me to come, the more times I'd loved to be there, support them, and learn about them."
He believes their current relationship with the Town of Cochrane is unparalleled. The chamber's also heavily involved with Cochrane Tourism and in other business partnerships while also being part of other grassroots community initiatives, like helping to improve our trail system.
The synergy of the chamber is recognized across the region and Alberta. In May, the chamber was named the best in the second-highest membership category of the Alberta Chamber of Commerce for 2021.
They've also formed a coalition with the Calgary area chambers to assist each other in common issues like staffing and meeting the business needs of their communities.
Being part of a larger district comes naturally to the chamber. Carson says they emphasize the word "District" in its name. They work with many surrounding communities and look forward to further collaborations.
In 2021, the chamber became a resource centre for businesses attempting to cope with the ill effects of the pandemic. They were communicating with government officials daily while coordinating an assistance program. They also launched the successful "Cochrane Loves Local" shopping campaign.
He says the reduction in health restrictions has helped businesses rebound this year.
"The restaurant industry was certainly beaten up badly, but all industries were taking a bit of a downturn because people weren't spending money, but I think we've seen a bit of a resurgence, and that's good news."
He says 2022 has had its share of challenges, from raging inflation to challenges in finding staff and, on the flipside finding employment in some sectors.
"We have those issues, but by the same token, we come together at a moment's notice, and we can solve things. Hopefully, everyone will get work, and we'll be perfectly well off, but there'll always be a need for people to help, and we have a community that's so strong in doing that. "
Upcoming major chamber events include its May trade show and they are laying the groundwork for a second one in October.
Carson says the May 6 and 7 trade show will be placing more emphasis on providing exposure to nonprofit organizations.
"We're going to make more space for nonprofit groups to give them the chance to show what they do in the community. There are lots of hidden things that go on by charities behind the scene that we don't even know about. They should have a chance to get out there, and it shouldn't cost them a fortune to come."
"I think that's giving back to the community, and I think that's a good idea."
Once again the chamber will be working with the town to host the "State of the Town" presentation of Mayor Jeff Genung. Last June, there was a packed house.
Carson says they look forward to The Station at the Cochrane Crossing fulfilling its potential of helping foster further economic activity.
"Like anything that's ever created, it's not perfect right off the hop, but we'll get there. It's a beautiful facility and in the right spot. It will take time to get that right, but once we do, it will turn into something pretty special."
He says with the pandemic and shifts in the work world, some people are looking to turn their ideas into businesses. He says the chamber can help mentor new business owners.
"I hear from new people all the time that are going to start up businesses. Some of them had lost their job, and decided it's time to get into business."
With the town's population continuing to grow at a rapid rate, so too will the business community.
"We're 34,500 people now but we still know everybody, and that means people are staying here. That's a good thing. That means we're not losing people because we're getting to know more people."