Choice of chamber chief to reverberate across city

Mark Brownlee
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LRT implementation, casino location among issues facing incoming CEO

One of Erin Kelly's first goals when she took over as the executive director of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce in 2009 was straightforward: move the organization out of its offices on Woodward Drive in the west end and get them back downtown.

The Ottawa Chamber of Commerce's Dave Donaldson.

When she stepped down from the position a few months ago, she had done that and more.

The Chamber now operates out of an office on Somerset Street in Centretown and membership grew by 25 per cent in her first year alone. Her goal of increased municipal support for the tourism sector moved closer to fruition under a receptive mayor and council.

With the search for Ms. Kelly’s replacement well underway, the chamber now has a chance to recalibrate once again.

Running an organization that represents business interests is not that different from owning a business, according to Rosemary Leu, the executive director of the Kanata Chamber of Commerce.

If working with her members in the city’s western suburb is any indication, the new president of the Ottawa chamber will need to bring lots of energy to working with the hundreds of businesses the organization represents.

“It is 365 days a year, seven days a week, so the first thing they need to do is make sure they hire someone with lots of stamina,” said Ms. Leu. “But it’s very rewarding and it’s different every day.”

The new head of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce will have to fill a number of different roles, said Dave Donaldson, the organization’s chair.

A big part of this will be helping organize events, such as the Forecasting Ottawa’s Economic Future luncheon held in late October, that bring area business people together to meet one another. That’s not all, though.

“Networking’s an important component but we also make sure we’re advocating the needs of businesses,” said Mr. Donaldson.

The new CEO – they are changing the title now that Ms. Kelly has left – will also have to quickly get to work on navigating several municipal policy issues in the coming years.

The city may be on the verge of awarding a contract to construct the first phase of a light-rail line, but that doesn’t mean the debates are over, according to Mr. Donaldson.

Businesses will have an interest in everything from the development opportunities that will arise around the 13 stations, to making sure the project comes in on budget.

Another matter that will be of interest is the location of a potential casino, said Mr. Donaldson.

Councillors voted last month to direct the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to seek bids from a private company to build a casino somewhere in the city. The OLG would then choose a bid that details the location of the gaming centre and present it to council to be approved or rejected.

The chamber’s new president will have to be involved once that decision is made, Mr. Donaldson said. Several locations, including Sparks Street, Scotiabank Place and the airport area have all been discussed as possible landing spots.

That’s one of the reasons why the successful candidate will, in addition to having senior management experience, need working knowledge of Ottawa’s business community. Bilingualism is also preferred, said Mr. Donaldson, given that the president needs to articulate the business community’s interests to local media.

The Chamber has hired recruiting firm Ogders Berndston to help them sort through what Mr. Donaldson believed was a pool of about 30 to 40 qualified candidates. About half a dozen people had already expressed interest in the job as of late October, he said.

The new president will also be tasked with working alongside other business groups, such as the regional chambers of commerce in Kanata, Orleans and Nepean, which may have differing opinions on where a casino should be placed, for example.

“There’s always going to be differences and things we can’t agree on,” said Ms. Leu of the Kanata chamber. “But there are always going to be some things we can come together on and we can all work together to genuinely benefit the business community as a whole.”

The successful candidate will also be working alongside a new business group that has sprung up in the past year.

Groups known as Business Improvement Areas that represent many stores and restaurants in neighbourhoods across the city such as Preston Street and Orleans formed a council earlier this year. After having their first formal meeting, the group will meet regularly with city officials to look at changing municipal policies to make it easier for their businesses to operate.

The new president will also need to figure out how the chamber will work alongside them, said Mr. Donaldson.

“The chamber works on the basic philosophy that we’ll partner with anybody if it’s for the good of business in Ottawa,” he said.

Organizations: Kanata Chamber of Commerce.If, Ontario Lottery and Gaming, Ottawa Chamber of Commerce

Geographic location: Ottawa, Somerset Street, Centretown Kanata Sparks Street Preston Street

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