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Chester chamber welcomes new president

by Adam Jacobs

 CHESTER - It didn't take the new president of the Chester Municipal Chamber of Commerce long to get his feet wet.

 Just a few short hours after Ben Wiper, of Nerds on Site, was voted to the position at the chamber annual general meeting on October 1, he proposed radical changes for the organization.

 Mr. Wiper, 29, who comes from an economics background, suggested steering the chamber toward a less traditional, yet potentially more lucrative, business model.

 "We are a large group that can speak with a loud voice that's going to effect change, not only in this community but in this world," he said.

 Ultimately, Mr. Wiper said the decision is up to the membership and he will respect that decision, whatever it may be.

 "If your desire is to be a social and networking group, then that's fine," he said. "If it's to operate as a business we need to decide how we're going to hire more staff or increase our volunteer time."

 A business model would likely require a hike in membership fees, Mr. Wiper said. However, he promised the benefits would far outweigh the negatives.

 Mr. Wiper said he'd like to streamline chamber operations and tighten up the board and executive requirements and delegate some responsibilities to other members of the chamber.

 Under a business model Mr. Wiper said the chamber would have greater influence over the local economy and could partner with other chambers or even tourism groups in a symbiotic relationship.

 In the short term he suggested the chamber identify two or three attainable goals to work toward to build momentum.

 "I'm very excited about our new board," he told those in attendance. "We have a lot of young blood coming in."

 The chamber wouldn't be in the position it's in today, with 175 members and strong financial footing, if not for outgoing president Elaine LeBlanc.

 When the owner of Linens and Things took over as president five years ago membership was floundering.

 In her honour, AGM master of ceremonies Amanda Gwynne-Timothy put together a top 10 list of Ms Le-Blanc's accomplishments.

 1. Increasing membership from 70 to 175.

 2. Turning a computerless operation into a chamber with two paid staff and two state-of-the-art computers.

 3. Creating a list of registered bylaws.

 4. Boosting three successful annual fundraisers, including the AGM.

 5. A joint chamber-municipal venture for two new highway signs on the 103, Duke Street sidewalks and a new web site.

 6. Visitor information centre (VIC) improvements.

 7. Revamped local brochures and advertising in the "Nova Scotia Doers' and Dreamers' Guide."

 8. Working with local government for a year-round VIC.

 9. Maintaining a steady tax rate despite the demise of the business occupancy tax rate.

 10. And receiving the Atlantic Canada Chamber of Commerce Harvey Webber Award in recognition of her outstanding service in 2007.

 Ms LeBlanc was then presented with a bouquet of flowers from the chamber.

 "I leave this position with great sadness but also with great excitement for the projects I want to pursue," she said.

 For her part, she downplayed her role as chamber president these past five years.

 "I've been accused of being a visionary person and I guess that's what it's all about," she said.

 Ms LeBlanc will serve on the board as past president this coming year.

 She was also granted five free years of membership into the chamber, one for each year she served as president.

posted on 10/07/08
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