The CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT), is calling for a review of City grants given to a trio of other organizations that represent Surrey businesses.
She is also calling for two chambers of commerce in Surrey to be closed.
Anita Huberman sent a letter to the City of Surrey Monday, Jan. 30 calling for a review of funding grants to the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce (CDCC), the South Surrey White Rock Chamber (SSWRCC), and the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association (DSBIA).
That evening a regular council meeting was set to discuss approval of grants for both CDCC and SSWRCC.
Surrey council on that Monday (Jan. 30) approved $10,000 grants that were proposed for both chambers as part of the City Grants Program. Grant submissions are accepted on a yearly basis, and the chamber requests for funding were among 44 that had been recommended for approval by the finance committee, out of 66 received for 2023.
The approvals are contingent on council’s approval of the 2023 general operating financial plan.
A corporate report notes the two chambers “play an important role in encouraging businesses to locate in Surrey and this grant supports their ongoing success.”
Huberman indicated she wished to address “some economic items” in her letter.
UP FOR REVIEW
“We noticed that both the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce and the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce are receiving the usual community grants for approval at the January 31 Council meeting,” wrote Huberman.
“This grant that they receive each year needs to be reviewed in the face of budgetary pressures to the City of Surrey to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent efficiently.”
She questioned why the groups get the grants.
“Why are these associations receiving automatic grants with no accountability and limited impact to the communities in which they serve? The City of Surrey continues to give them grants because that is what they have done for decades. I strongly urge Council to review this.”
She did not provide examples for her claims of “no accountability” nor “limited impact” in the letter. But she did tell the Cloverdale Reporter Feb. 3 if the grants weren’t given it would only have “minimal impact” on the chambers.
“It’s only $10,000 each and it’s something they get all the time without any accountability.”
She said SBOT used to get the same grant, but they don’t need it anymore, so they don’t apply.
Huberman also said in the letter that grants for the DSBIA’s programs and activities “must be reviewed” at at time in the “face of budgetary pressures to the City of Surrey” so that “taxpayer dollars are being spent efficiently.”
Huberman also questioned why the Cloverdale Chamber, whose current boundaries cover Clayton, Cloverdale, and Campbell Heights, is thinking of changing its name. She also questioned why the Chamber was allowed to book a guest speaker.
“We noticed that the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce, who from our perspective want to further divide Surrey by changing their name to the East Surrey Chamber of Commerce … will be hosting an event in February about Surrey’s Economic Forecast featuring Stephen Wu,” Huberman wrote.
“How can there be an economic forecast if there is no economic plan and no strategic direction from Council? I do not believe that Mr. Wu should be speaking at this event.”
Huberman told the Reporter that her main reason for writing the letter was to follow SBOT’s mandate.
“The Surrey Board of Trade monitors the city budget,” Huberman said. “And we provide observations, which is within our mandate to do, to ensure that economic investment and fiscal prudence are being considered by the city.”
She said the City and its chambers need to do things differently. “What’s been working in the past has not been working for the city,” she said.
Huberman added all the Surrey BIAs “need to be reviewed” to understand what the benefits of having a BIA in each area amounts to.
“Businesses are facing such significant bottom-line erosion, inflationary challenges, labour challenges, and these organizations are asking for additional money. Their mandate is to beautify the city, to work for crime prevention, to work on bringing the community together—in terms of making vibrant places and spaces—but again what we’ve done in the past hasn’t been working. So we need a review of how we’ve been doing things, how we’ve been spending money. And that was the point of my communication.”
Huberman said, right now, governments on all three levels are confused as to why there are three Chambers in one city.
“We’re the only city in Canada like that. We need to be one voice of business, one Surrey, in order to speak to the different levels of government in our advocacy activity.”
She said the Cloverdale Chamber is trying to “further divide and create confusion” within the city.
“They don’t represent all of East Surrey as they’ve been saying in the prescribed areas under the federal ministry of economic development.”
She said the CDCC area is smaller than what they say and it doesn’t include Clayton at all. She added that Cloverdale doesn’t need both a Chamber and a BIA.
She said businesses in Cloverdale are missing out on connectivity to the rest of the city, including business opportunities, and that everyone would be better off if they were represented by one voice.
“Thats how all other cities work, but we can’t get our act together in Surrey.”
CLOSED FOR BUSINESS
Huberman said she’d like to see the Cloverdale and South Surrey Chambers disbanded and brought under the umbrella of SBOT.
“That’s always been the goal,” she explained. “It hasn’t gone anywhere because Cloverdale sees itself as being special and distinct, but that hasn’t served them well because they need infrastructure investment, they need placemaking—they need the profile, the resources, the connections that the Surrey Board of Trade can help them with.”
Huberman said one such solution for her is to fold the Cloverdale and South Surrey chambers into satellite offices of the Surrey Board of Trade. She said there’s been talk of it in the past, but nothing’s gone anywhere.
“It’s been met with distaste and with the perspective that working together as one voice will not serve their respective areas,” she noted. “If we’re going to have an East Surrey Chamber of Commerce, a South Surrey Chamber of Commerce and a BIA in Cloverdale, it just confuses absolutely everyone.”
In an emailed statement to the Reporter, Scott Wheatley, executive director of the Cloverdale Chamber, said it is a non-issue for him.
“As far as we are concerned, we have been in existence to serve the businesses and community of Cloverdale, Clayton and Campbell Heights since our inception 74 years ago,” Wheatley wrote.
“We are continuing to do so. Businesses in our geographic region and community have distinct needs and challenges that are best served by those who live and work in this region and it is our duty and honour to do so.”
Wheatley said the ROI on the $10K grant from the city was clear.
“We are the fastest growing economic area with an estimated 35,000 additional jobs to be located in our territory within the next five years,” he explained.
“We are also the centre of much cultural activity for the City of Surrey as the Museum of Surrey, the Archives, KPU technical school, the soon-to-be built hospital, and the terminus for the long-awaited Skytrain are all located here.”
He said Cloverdale was also a nexus of many large Surrey events such as Canada Day, the Cloverdale Rodeo, the Surrey Santa Parade of Lights and other cultural and celebratory events.
“We work collaboratively with other organizations in order to support our region, business and the City of Surrey as we grow, build and diversify. But, most importantly, and as always: we are committed and excited by our role as the Chamber of Commerce servicing Cloverdale, Clayton, and Campbell Heights.”
Mayor Brenda Locke was in a meeting and couldn’t comment, but did tell the Reporter she was “unaware of the letter” from Huberman.
Speaking with Peace Arch News, the Cloverdale Reporter’s sister paper, Ritu Khanna, executive director of the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce, described Huberman’s letter to the City of Surrey as “surprising, disappointing and appalling, to be honest.
“For another business organization to undermine other not-for-profit organizations serving the business community, it’s disappointing and not what we would consider respectful or working in collaboration.”
In response to Huberman’s comments that the city’s grants are given automatically and have limited impact, Khanna said that as a small, not-for-profit organization, every dollar the SSWR Chamber receives – including $10,000 from the City of Surrey – is significant.
“We actually send a comprehensive proposal every year to the City,” she added. “It’s not automatic.”
As for Huberman’s suggestion that Surrey businesses would be better served by one central Chamber of Commerce, Khanna said that’s not the case.
“Surrey is a very large city. Most people would recognize it has unique pockets.”
The SSWR Chamber has served the Peninsula since 1937 and has made a significant impact during that time,“especially through the pandemic,” she noted.
“Our organization has been around for 85 years. We understand the uniqueness of the area.
“If you look at the work we’ve done over the years, we are a foundational not-for-profit in the community.”
Khanna said that as of Friday (Feb. 3) afternoon she had not spoken with Huberman about the letter, however, the chamber’s board of directors held a special meeting that afternoon to discuss the letter and its implications, as well as what the next steps will be.
— with files from Tracy Holmes
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter