Workforce Connection: The Power of People – Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network

2022 BC Economic Development Award Winner

The Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network (CERN) is a collaborative effort to support our community through economic benefits aimed at small business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. CERN partners include the City of Chilliwack, Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation, Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Chilliwack Business Improvement Association, Community Futures South Fraser, Sto:lo Community Futures, and Tourism Chilliwack. Additional partners include the BC Economic Development Association (BCEDA), WorkBC Fraser Northeast, and Chilliwack Community Services.

1. Created a Portal/Website for local businesses that houses the following: An online place to house all the initiatives that target helping businesses through post-pandemic times and attract new businesses and entrepreneurs to the community. This website is an important legacy piece for CERN to continue managing.
a. Workforce Development Tools and Resources
i. Leadership and development tools
ii. Policy and procedures for SMEs
iii. Inclusion and diversity resources
iv. Creative hiring solutions
b. Support Local Initiatives
i. Shopportunity
ii. Support Local Gift Card Campaign
iii. Walk and Shop
c. Business Planning and Innovation Resources
i. Strategic planning sessions
ii. Design thinking resources and links with Innovate BC and National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP)

2. Created business resources and professional development tools for SMEs
a. Innovation and Design Thinking workshop series
b. Digital skills workshop series for entrepreneurs and/or their team members that covered social media basics, marketing and branding, and digital literacy for business
c. Inclusion and diversity training workshop series
i. Understanding workplace diversity and inclusion
ii. Benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace
iii. Understanding generational divides in the workplace
d. CERN Immigrant Business Network
i. Understanding Canadian workplace culture training
ii. Mentorship and training for new immigrants looking for work experience and culture lessons with local businesses
iii. Building work and self-employment opportunities for new immigrants
iv. Buying a Canadian business
e. Commercialization of Business
i. Start-up training; business plans and market research
ii. Entrepreneurial storytelling
iii. Capital investment opportunities to bring local products to market

3. Workforce Connection - The Power of People Summit
The Summit was promoted to the entire Pan West Region as an opportunity for professional development for business owners and employees. Summit topics included:
a. Working and Leading in a Time of Reconciliation
b. Business Retention and Attraction
c. The Power of the Employee Experience - 5 Ways to Retain and Attract Staff
d. The Power of DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion)
e. Workplace Exhaustion - Tips to Help
f. Rethink Workforce Solutions
g. The Power of Philanthropy in Employee Retention

4. Legacy: Group mentorship program following the Summit
a. Youth Mentorship in Business
Ongoing mentorship group to support youth during all stages of business, in partnership with the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce. A focus group was conducted with youth from our local high school and university to focus on what tools would be beneficial to gaining employment.
b. New Canadians Mentorship Program
Supporting new Canadians in their journey of starting their own business or getting their first job in Canada, in partnership with Chilliwack Community Services Immigrant Services.
c. Video and digital library of all training that is provided throughout the course of the project. All the videos and resources are housed on the website and available for training opportunities and attraction of new business to our community.

Community Futures South Fraser applied for funding with the Rural Opportunities Fund for a total project cost of $241,560 and received funding of $163,950. Community Futures South Fraser contributed $7000 in cash contribution and partners contributed $77,600 in-kind for things such as office space, staff time, speakers, and marketing.

This project has had a positive impact on Chilliwack businesses and was successful in many ways including:

  • Number of SMEs assisted: 261
  • Businesses created/retained/expanded: 194
  • Business successions: 2
  • Non-HQP jobs created to date: 39
  • Participants trained: 306
  • Hours of support provided to businesses and not-for-profits: 410
  • Partners engaged in community-based projects: 13
  • Project partners in-kind hours: 620
  • New Canadians assisted: 14

The CERN website is maintained by CERN and houses the training videos and digital library for local businesses and entrepreneurs, to ensure they always have access to the resources provided through this initiative.

This project is the starting point for the Youth Mentorship in Business group, which the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and CEPCO continue to lead.

It is also the starting point for the CERN Immigrant Business Network. The CERN IBN enhanced immigrant business success by connecting participants with local stakeholders, providing information and access to resources, and encouraging participation in community events and organizations. Due to this successful model, the CERN IBN will continue with support and guidance from Chilliwack Community Services Immigrant Services and the Chilliwack Economic Resource Network.

This project is replicable and transferable and could be adapted for use in other communities that have strong partnerships in business and economic development. There needs to be a lead organization to coordinate projects.

The Summit was moved from November 2021 to February 2022 and went fully virtual. All speakers presented virtually, which was a challenge, but our production team was well-prepared, and the Summit was a success.

Another challenge was identifying the number of non-high-demand professions maintained. We used different strategies, including one-on-one phone calls to the businesses supported through the project to find out more information about their business.