Chambers of commerce or business associations are what bind local businesses together through their common interests.

The future of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce is precarious—not for financial reasons, but because more involvement is needed from its members.

“There’s no one to take over,” said President Phil Cloutier.  The chamber’s next annual general meeting is on March 26.

Cloutier doubted the chamber of commerce will cease to exist in Alexandria but he did say it could go dormant, and only continue to run the catch the ace lotteries which have been both a good fundraiser for the chamber, and a popular community event.

The Alexandria chamber has 100 members, but most are not active.  Cloutier said the current board of directors is “great,” but more involvement is needed from other businesses.

“Businesses have to get involved if the want something back,” Cloutier stated.

The chamber has usually held a trade show for local businesses every other year but is not doing it this year because more volunteer help is needed to organize it.

“I’d hate to see it go dormant,” said Cloutier.

The Vankleek Hill Business and Merchants Association (BMA) is not a chamber of commerce officially.  It does not engage in political advocacy work or lobbying like most other chambers of commerce do.  However, it does organize events like the annual Trash or Treasure community yard sale that are designed to bring visitors to town.  The organization operates the tourist info centre during the summer season and is hosting monthly fun events as smaller-scale ongoing fundraisers as part of its community outreach. The group is hoping for input and involvement, including contributing to some of the elements in the new green space located beside the Vankleek Hill Post Office. And the organization is revitalizing its Vankleek Hill bucks — a shop-local incentive — which should be underway within the next few weeks.

Co-President Pat Deacon said approximately 60 businesses—over half of the businesses in Vankleek Hill are members of the BMA.

“We want to see business thrive in Vankleek Hill, we want to see Vankleek Hill thrive,” she said.

Deacon said the biggest challenge is convincing people that the BMA is worthwhile for business and the community.

According to Hawkesbury Chamber of Commerce President Antonios Tsourounakis, that organization is “in better shape than it’s been in a while.”

He said that the chamber has 111 members presently.

“Members expect us to do things for them,” Tsourounakis said.

Tsourounakis explained that having an organization like a chamber of commerce represent them allows business owners to increase their influence politically.

The chamber wanted Ontario’s minimum wage increase in 2018 phased in over a longer period so employers could more easily adjust to the increased expense.

Other events the Hawkesbury chamber has organized recently include business seminars for members, networking events, and a “five to seven” social/networking time for members.

In Maxville, the Chamber of Commerce has 31 members and President Audrey Evans said all of them are active.

Chamber-organized events and activities include the farmer’s market, sidewalk sale, Santa Claus parade, and annual craft show.

Evans said the biggest challenge for business in Maxville in the past year was having streets dug up while the new municipal water system was installed.

The Lachute-based Chambre de Commerce et de l’Industrie d’Argenteuil is experiencing growth in activity and involvement.

President Timmy Jutras said they went through a major restructuring after he took over as President in 2017.

The size of the board was expanded from six to 10 members, and they are still trying to increase membership.  About 200 businesses across the nine municipalities in Argenteuil are members.

Jutras described as the Argenteuil chamber as active in taking a role in developing the local economy and political advocacy for the business community.

“Argenteuil has great economic potential,” said Jutras.

He said there are challenges, though.  Representing business interests from across a large and diverse region like Argenteuil is one of them.  He noted there are sometimes challenges due to differing community needs and the bilingual character of the area.

The Vankleek Hill Business and Merchant Association trivia night at the Windsor Tavern on February, 28. The small-scale fundraising event is part of the organization’s community outreach to let citizens know about the organization. Photo: James Morgan