Bradford Board of Trade president Jennifer Harrison said the role and of the BBT is as important today as it ever has been, considering the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the general rapidity of change within the increasingly interconnected global economy.
“Our mission is to advocate and enrich the business community in BWG. What does that mean? It means all of us on the board of directors are business owners ourselves here in town. So, on top of running our own businesses and contributing to the economy and to the community in that way, we go a little bit beyond that, and we volunteer our time to really connect with the business community through the BBT to ensure that the business community can thrive,” she explained.
“This can mean working with a business that is having trouble navigating bylaws or is looking for a specific outreach for an audience or customer base or for hiring purposes and they’re looking for some information about Bradford and how to do that. They come to us asking how we can help them navigate, and that’s really where the partnership with BWG the town administration staff, and the council come in. Because we can really identify some avenues that can help that business owner get the answers that they need and bring some attention to them as well. We find that often what a new business wants from us is ‘hey, how do I reach people, who are the people to talk to, what are the groups to be in?’”
These goals are achieved through three major overarching tactics. The first is by providing services to businesses that help them run their organizations more effectively. Second, by providing networking opportunities that help local businesses increase sales and access service providers to help them improve their operations, grow and prosper. And thirdly, the BBT spends a great deal of its time and energy advocating for the local business community to upper tier levels of government. For example, during the COVID crisis, the BBT coordinated regular information sessions with the local MPP Caroline Mulroney and the local MP Scot Davidson, so business owners could ask questions related to changing regulations and protocols.
Being a member of the Board of Trade means being part of a broader province-wide network as well as an important local one.
“The BBT is a member of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which means that our members are [de facto] members of that organization, which has a lot of benefits. One of them is a discount at Esso gas stations, which can come in handy, especially these days. Another is access to a benefits system through the Ontario Chamber, which can really help smaller businesses that don’t have a lot of employees but want to retain those employees and make the work environment the best they can by offering a benefits package,” said Harrison.
One of the major COVID-related initiatives was the Shop Local BWG program, which began early during the pandemic as a way to support local restaurants but broadened its scope to highlight the importance of supporting all local businesses.
“Restaurants were one of the industries that was really hurting. They were open and closed maybe five or six different times. We thought it would be important to encourage people to still support our restaurants by getting them to order take out and be really proud that they were showing support by posting it online and encouraging their friends to follow suit through the BWG Takeout Challenge. We offered prizes and it was just a great program that the community really embraced,” Harrison said.
“When COVID went on longer than anyone expected we decided to expand the BWG Takeout program to any retailer and any purchase made it town and, again, get people to post about it. Let’s get people showing support for local shops. And we did draws for prizes donated by local businesses for Shop Local BWG the same as we did for BWG Takeout. It’s been such a cool thing to see all the supporting marketing collateral around town, and I still feel a sense of pride whenever I see a Shop Local BWG sticker on a business window.”
While there are many benefits to being an official member of the Bradford Board of Trade, Harrison said the efforts of the board and members are meant to support all businesses in BWG.
“Part of our mission is to support the business community at large. If a business comes to us looking for help, we don’t turn them away because they’re not a member. We make those connections, for sure. During COVID, because there were ever-evolving rules and restrictions that could be really confusing for people, our CAO Tricia [Barrett-Butler], the only staff member that we have, spent a lot of time digging into what those changing restrictions and requirements were and making sure that we had a resource to answer those questions,” she said, adding that the various programs and initiatives put in place because of COVID have had the side benefit of encouraging more conversations with business owners, creating more opportunities to help them, but also extol the virtues and value of being a BBT member.
“It became a great way to talk to people and ask how they’re doing after all of that’s happened over the last couple of years, and asking what we can do to help them, if they know about the BBT etc.”
Although the range of businesses involved in the BBT is quite broad, Harrison said that a sizable proportion of BBT members are small businesses, and home-based businesses.
“Small businesses don’t have a human resources department; don’t have a communications department; don’t have a government relations department, so those types of businesses are really attracted to the BBT because that’s where we can help them the most,” she said.
Over the years, the BBT had cultivated and maintained a solid, mutually beneficial working relationship with the BWG Economic Development department, recognizing that pooling information, talent and resources benefits the entire community.
“The folks at the Office of Economic Development are fantastic. They are a small but mighty team and we do work closely with them on every one of our events. In fact, the town of BWG is a gold sponsor of all our events. Beyond that, the Ec Dev team is amazing at also helping the business community navigate things like planning and building permits and those sorts of processes through the municipal administration. We frequently share notes with them to determine what businesses in town need some help, how we can help with the Board of Trade and vice versa,” Harrison said.
“What I find really important about [BWG] Economic Development is not only just helping individual businesses but being able to use their expertise and vice versa to talk about the business climate in town. Pre-COVID, we worked with them on other things like the Mayor’s Breakfast where we have business owners come to network but also to hear speakers from different industries and also from the town and the mayor of course. It’s an important relationship works both ways. They help us and we help them.”
Over the weekend of June 10-12, the BBT is hosting an event called Rediscover BWG, which picks up the theme developed through the BWG Takeout Challenge and Shop Local BWG programs in encouraging the general populace to visit local businesses. Part of the activities on the Saturday include a special vendors market beside the public library on Holland Street representing home based and online businesses located within the community.
A downloadable map highlighting the location of businesses participating in the program, many of which are offering special prizes or discounts to shoppers who drop in.
“We’re encouraging local residents, and even folks from outside the community to get out and rediscover those businesses that they may not have visited over the last couple of years. We want consumers to feel confident that they can go into local businesses again, and even visit places they haven’t been before, because there actually have been new businesses that have cropped up in the last two or three years,” Harrison said, adding that these sorts of events are important to the BBT board and membership because they too are business owners.
“We are real business owners in the community who have felt the pain and frustration and know what businesses need from the community in order to thrive. That’s what really sets BBT events apart is they are really business focused, but they are also created and managed by those business owners, so they hit the mark every time. People want to shop local; they want to support the businesses who are sponsoring local sports teams or donating to local charities. Events like Rediscover BWG are a terrific way to show people that these businesses are doing great things, that they can shop and support businesses that are local, that fit with their own values and needs.”
For more information, visit www.bradfordboardoftrade.com.