The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce is ending a $140,750 community service agreement with the District of Sooke one year early.
On Friday, the chamber served notice to the district it was cancelling the contract which undertook economic development for the municipality, citing lack of financial resources and volunteers.
Each year the chamber receives $28,150 from the municipality, roughly half of its annual budget, to promote economic opportunities in Sooke.
“While the community service agreement was an adequate solution to address Sooke’s economic development requirements in a depressed economy, the chamber board of directors believe it is time for the assistance of a dedicated professional or group that has the knowledge and expertise to justly guide and shape the development of our beloved town,” said the chamber in a statement signed by president Kerry Cavers.
“Sooke is at a critical point in its growth and in order to successfully advance in a manner consistent with its small town charge and character the chamber is proactively removing itself from this relationship with the district.”
Over the last 3½ years, the chamber has implemented many economic development initiatives including the Town Centre Design Guidelines, Newcomers Club, Resident Relocation Package and an Economic Development Symposium, Cavers said.
In its realignment of priorities , the chamber will also cancel its involvement with the Sooke Salmon Festival and Sooke Santa Parade and put in abeyance its own events: the chamber golf tournament and Sooke Sunday Car Lot.
Cavers said the chamber will now refocus, putting more resources towards growing the chamber and servicing its members.
“We need to hear what our members need,” she said.
“We have some work to do with some businesses and that’s part of the reason we wanted to refocus as well.”
The chamber is urging the district to use the remaining money from the contract to become a member of the South Island Prosperity Project and to retain the services of an economic development officer.
Earlier this year, the district was one of only three Greater Victoria municipalities, who decided not to join the SIPP, a regional economic development group.
Mayor Maja Tait would like to open up discussions again about SIPP membership and admits the district has to take a more focused look at economic development.
“I think council needs to define what economic development looks like for Sooke,” Tait said.
“We do want to look at attracting appropriate development to our town. We’re hitting a point where it needs to be focused.”
Tait said the cancellation of the contract is timely for both the district and chamber.
The chamber is heading into its fall elections and the district is reviewing its strategic plan and beginning budget talks soon.
When asked if Sooke needs a full-time economic development officer, Tait acknowledged the district is at a point where it needs more expertise, but she wants to wait until after she sees a Royal Roads University study on Sooke’s economic development and new Census numbers, both due next year.
The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce has 172 members.