Ambassador Program offers model for Chamber, community

There is a large and growing 'Go Local' movement in North America. Supporters of this movement believe - and there's a large body of research to support them - that buying locally-produced goods and services is not only good for local businesses, it is good for the whole community.

Supporting local businesses not only means more local jobs and more local prosperity, it means more support for community causes and charities. It means happier and healthier communities.

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A lot of research in the U.S. has shown that the traditional top-down model of community economic development - where municipalities hire highly-paid staff primarily to attract new businesses - is often ineffective. Many communities have achieved better results by focusing on supporting and growing existing businesses and by fostering entrepreneurship.

The renowned community development author and speaker who came to Lillooet in February, Michael Shuman, is an advocate of the Go Local movement and he presented a number of ideas for building a stronger local economy.

You can learn more about the Go Local movement at www.bealocalist.org.

Members of the Lillooet Chamber of Commerce were listening when Shuman came to town. We are a small volunteer organization whose only funding is from members and so we have a very limited community-building capacity. But one of the things we can do is to communicate to local residents and local consumers why it is important to support local businesses, so we are preparing to embark on a Buy Local campaign in the coming months.

We have studied a number of Buy Local models in Canada and the U.S. and one of the most impressive we've seen is the Ambassador Program operated by the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce on Vancouver Island.

With support from Tourism Tofino, the District of Tofino and the Raincoast Education Society, the Tofino Chamber put together a program that not only tells local people about local businesses, it educates them about local First Nations culture, local history and geography and about local events and festivals. It offers information on good customer service and on the importance of tourism to the local economy.

Participants sign up for a four-hour course that teaches them all about their community and when they complete it they receive a card that makes them an official Tofino Ambassador. And it also entitles them to great discounts in local stores.

Tofino Chamber executive director Gord Johns says the program was initially directed at frontline tourism service staff, those in the restaurants and hotels, but was so popular that many others wanted to participate. Now more than 25 per cent of the residents of Tofino have completed the course.

The program offers an enticing example and an exciting opportunity for other communities like Lillooet.

We can envision a program that brings together First Nations, the Historical Society, the Lillooet Naturalists, the Gold Trail School District and tourism organizations like the Gold Country Communities Society as well as the Chamber. All these people could devise an exciting curriculum that would engender cooperation between the various organizations and create new pride in the community.

Lillooet is a unique and remarkable place and we should be excited and proud to live and work here.

The Chamber is still studying Buy Local programs and the executive has not decided which to pursue. A lot of work remains to be done but the Ambassador program certainly presents an exciting model.

If you have ideas to contribute towards this or any other Buy Local program, please contact the Chamber at info@LillooetChamberofCommerce.com. Or you can call 250-256-3578. If you phone and don't get an answer, please leave a message as the phone is carried by a busy volunteer.

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