Setting the Path for the Chaleur Chamber of Commerce.
Written by Peter Assaff, October 17th 2019
The Chaleur Chamber of Commerce may have been around, in one form or another, for over 100 years now, but it clearly had its sights set on the future when it hired a new Executive director in 2018.
With a mandate to enhance and promote the business community in the Chaleur Region, the Chamber turned to Jeff Christie to be the face of the organization, which originally began as a Board of Trade on May 15, 1913.
“I graduated from BHS (Bathurst High School) in 2016,” said Christie, who was still a teenager when he took on the role. “Then I took off to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and took a two-year Business Administration course at Holland Collage. I graduated from that in 2018 and came back to the region and got the job offer for Executive Director at the Chaleur Chamber of Commerce and have been doing that ever since.”
Now at the ripe old age of 21, Christie is proof that you’re never too young to make a difference in your community.
“I hadn’t even graduated (from Holland College) when I started,” said Christie. “I had to leave for a couple of days (after starting his new job) to actually go through the graduation process.
“The executive director that was here before me moved on to a new role in the community and I got offered the job as an interim executive director. I had worked at the Chamber the two summers that I was studying at Holland College as a summer events planner (so) they knew I already knew what I was coming into. I had a sense of what the Chamber was and kind of had a feel for the membership as well.”
Growing membership throughout the region is key
When Christie first accepted the position as Executive Director, the Chamber was made up of roughly 280 members from the business community in the Chaleur Region of Northern New Brunswick. In the year and a half since taking on the role he has seen that number climb to well over the 300 mark.
“We are at 330 now,” he said. “So, it definitely has been a substantial growth.
“I’d like to see that number keep rising, and I’d like to see our region come together even more. Our motto is ‘Our Voice is Stronger Together’ and there’s a lot of things that can be achieved if we all work together.”
Christie admits having so many members spread out over a large area comes with its challenges but said he has already seen the benefits that cooperation can bring.
“The Chamber is board driven,” he explained. “We have 10 board members (that) range anywhere from Allardville to Belledune, so that is the area that we represent.
“Working with seven municipalities definitely can be tricky at times, but if we start working together and we start putting together a regional economic organization or plan, I think the future is great for our region. Over the last two years we’ve seen that our region is starting to grow. I think that is going to continue and it is all because we are starting to work together.”
Cooperation leads to solutions
That cooperation also includes working with Chambers in other parts of the province to find solutions to common problems.
“The mandate of our Chamber is to enhance and promote the business community through the voice of our membership,” he said. “So, we are really here to be the voice of the business community and to be their voice to the various different levels of government. If there are any issues arising in the business community, for example when the WorkSafe NB rates were rising, we came together with other chambers in the province and formed a coalition and worked towards ensuring the government heard the concerns of our membership. Eventually they put together a new plan that was actually going to see the rates decrease over the next couple of years.
“Another big part of the Chamber is really offering our members networking opportunities. Members of the chamber…get the opportunity to interact with other businesses in the region. The best way to promote your business is through word of mouth and working together, collaboration.”
Rewarding and intimidating at the same time
Christie said his role with the Chamber has been a very rewarding experience but admits being so young makes it intimidating at times as well.
“I am part of several committees with this role,” he explained. “And when we are sitting around the table looking at what we can do for economic development and you have someone there who is in their mid-50s who has being doing this for 30 years it is definitely intimidating to speak up. But you have to overcome that, and you have to put your input in. Most of them respect it. I haven’t had anybody tell me I don’t know what I’m doing because I am young.
“I mean sometimes it definitely can be a little bit tricky gaining the respect from the business community. There’s a lot of leaders that have been here in this region, and worked for different organizations, for several years. To be able to get in that network has been a little bit of a challenge, but I think we have a region that understands that we need youth to start coming into these roles.”
Lessons at home and school have helped prepare Christie for his role
Although he may be just starting his professional career, Christie can draw on the lessons he learned in college as well as those he experienced first-hand growing up to help him understand the challenges local entrepreneurs find themselves up against.
“Growing up my family has always been a family of entrepreneurs,” said the son of Roy Christie and Nicole Roy of Bathurst. “My parents owned several properties in the region, we owned a discount store, and at the Chamber we deal a lot with entrepreneurs.
“We have a lot of people start businesses, and I understand the challenges they go through.
“Then in school, it was a very hands-on program. We got a lot of opportunities. It was a different province, and that was something completely different learning how businesses operate in different provinces, but we really got a chance to go out in the field and speak with business owners and entrepreneurs. I think that has really helped me put everything together and understand different ways different people think.”
A fresh outlook doesn’t hurt either
Of course, the youthful optimism that Christie brings to the role, couple with a fresh outlook and a genuine love for the region don’t hurt either.
“This is the community that I want to live in for the rest of my life,” he said. “I feel that myself, and my generation, we are responsible for what it is going to be.
“At my age I still have a lot of friends, and people I know, that are still at university. As much as I can I encourage them to come back. We have to share our success stories, and we really have to tell the youth that there are employment opportunities here. There are opportunities to start you own business. There are opportunities to buy existing businesses though succession planning. There are opportunities to work here. We just have to share those opportunities and share our success stories to get people to come back.”
The Chamber’s mission is to enhances business growth and prosperity through leadership, innovation and representation. Christie is one of three paid employees.
The others are Florine Perrillat-Monet and Kim Chamberlain, while Jessica Poirier is president of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.
“(Perrillat-Monet) is our admin/events coordinator,” he said. “Kim Chamberlain does business immigration development. Her role is to help newcomers that are coming to the region that are looking to buy an existing business or start their own business.”
Plenty of help nearby
Christie knows he doesn’t have to look far to find help when he needs it.
“If I can thank anybody for getting this opportunity it would be (former Chamber President) Bob Lennon,” he said. “He kind of took me by the hand and said, ‘Jeff you’re going to start in this role, and we’ll see how it goes.’ He has been a great mentor from the beginning.
“Kim has been here for six years. She has been great.
“The people I’m surrounded by, our board members, are all business leaders from around the community for different organizations and they’ve been great. The Chamber is not a one man show. I am just the face of the Chamber, but a lot of the ideas and a lot of the events, and a lot of what we are mandated to do, comes from the board. Which is the way it should be. The Chamber shouldn’t be run by one person, it should be run by our members and that’s is how we try to make it work.”
Giving back is important too
Christie also understands the importance of giving back to his community as well.
“I am quite involved. I am a member of the Bathurst Rotary Club. I am starting to coach hockey. As much as I can I like to volunteer my time outside of work. I like to keep busy, and I think people have to put in more than 40 hours a week to be successful and to get the wheels rolling for this community.”
With that type of commitment, it looks like that 2018 decision to hire Christie has left the Chamber’s future in very good hands
“It has been great,” he concluded. “I think just meeting the entire business community, we have a lot of great businesses and a lot of great people in the region, and to be exposed to this, I think that is just rewarding and I enjoy coming to work every day.”
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