Charting growth and equity in the Chamber community

Charting growth and equity in the Chamber community

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Michele Peveril

I worked for the Halifax Chamber of Commerce about 25 years ago, fresh out of university. Local Boards of Trade had amalgamated to become the “Voice of Metro Business.” Bill Black chaired the Board, and the Chamber talked taxation, small business support, entrepreneurship, and economic prosperity. The Halifax population stood at 329,000. More people were moving away than were staying.

Fast forward 25+ years. From my vantage point on the Chamber Board of Directors, I have been grateful to see headlines like: “Halifax could reach a population of half a million within 5 years,” “Halifax’s downtown population growing at fastest pace in Canada,” and “Nova Scotia sets immigration record in 2021.”

Member prosperity remains at the core of the Chamber’s Strategic Plan, but the focus areas have broadened. This is reflected in the 2019-2023 Halifax Chamber of Commerce Strategic Plan and Task Force priorities.

The Fostering Private Sector Growth Task Force priorities are:

  1. Optimize the size of government through reduced tax burden, efficient spending, and increased revenue.
  2. Foster a frictionless business environment through reduced regulatory burden.
  3. Support the growth of Nova Scotia’s export sector — for both goods and services.
  4. Promote and support the growth of Halifax as a major Canadian city.

The Accessing a Skilled Workforce(ASW) Task Force priorities are:

  1. Support the Chamber’s Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion policy and action plan.
  2. Promote and encourage immigration to achieve Ivany population targets.
  3. Promote entrepreneurship training and development.
  4. Ensure youth retention and successful job placement through work-integrated learning.

Over 40 Chamber members volunteer on these Task Forces combined. On a bi-monthly basis, the Task Forces gather to support the Chamber’s staff and Board of Directors in advancing these priorities. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, these volunteers continued to bring their ideas and action items to the table.

Having led the ASW Task Force these past two years, I see first-hand how volunteers and staff are making progress on these priorities. The cooperative approach of many not-for-profit, private, and public sector groups has made a difference.

The Task Force is currently brainstorming the next steps to support the Chamber’s efforts in promoting entrepreneurship development and ensuring youth retention in the workforce. In the meantime, the Chamber has regularly hosted events and published articles in Business Voice magazine that reflect these priorities. Over the past year, the ASW Task Force has placed particular focus on promoting immigration and supporting Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEA&I).

Promoting Immigration

During a recent meeting of the Chamber-led Nova Scotia Business and Labour Economic Coalition (NSBLEC), Ava Czaplay, Deputy Minister with Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour, Skills, and Immigration, outlined the latest statistics concerning immigration in Nova Scotia:

• Nova Scotia’s population reached a milestone of 1 million last year.

• 4,100 immigration applications were approved, with a focus on skilled newcomers and essential services.

• Inter-provincial migration increased for the sixth year in a row.

• The provincial retention rate remains strong at 71% — the highest in Atlantic Canada.

I recall standing in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic when the 2014 report from OneNS launched. There were urgent calls to action on the international immigration and inter-provincial migration fronts. In that report, population challenges featured prominently as the cornerstone to building a prosperous economy.

Significant progress has been made since, with the Chamber supporting many other groups that collectively drive immigration forward. The OneNS dashboard shows that, in recent years, inter-provincial migration is “progressing and surpassing” targets while international immigration is “progressing on track.”

The gains in OneNS immigration targets, however, stand in contrast to slow progress in other areas. For example, the Goal Status under “Employment Rate for First Nations and African Nova Scotians” is listed as “not progressing; not on track.” The employment rates for First Nations and African Nova Scotians are significantly lower than the provincial figure. Clearly, there remains substantial work to be done in the business and broader community when it comes to underrepresented groups in the workforce.

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion

The Halifax Chamber has introduced a policy and action plan around DEA&I, and the ASW Task Force is committed to supporting these efforts. A few recent highlights are:

• A more diverse and inclusive pool of nominees and finalists for the Chamber’s 2022 Halifax Business Awards.

• The creation of an online DEA&I Tool Kit.

• An African Heritage Month special email bulletin, delivered to over 5,500 subscribers with a 69% open rate (a new record!).

• Seven articles in Business Voice magazine related to DEA&I in 2021.

• Ten Chamber events this past year related to DEA&I, including a series of “Vibrant Community” events, a 2022 webinar series hosted by Josh Creighton (Community Engagement Specialist at the Chamber), and a Blanket Exercise event on National Truth and Reconciliation Day.

There are still challenges when it comes to fully engaging underrepresented groups in the workforce, and there are many groups working on addressing these challenges. We can achieve real and impactful change by working together. The aim is to keep building momentum through multiple approaches, and the goal is to generate broad, positive impact on employment rates and DEA&I in Nova Scotia. The Indigenous Blanket Exercise, for instance, may have been just one day of education, but I can safely say that the 50 people in attendance were moved by what they experienced. This is a small step towards reconciliation.

If Chamber members have ideas related to these Strategic Plan focus areas, please connect with Kathleen MacEachern, Senior Policy & Research Analyst at the Halifax Chamber, to pass along your input. The ASW Task Force will continue to meet bi-monthly to support the Chamber’s work in these areas.

Thank you to the volunteers who devote time to the Task Force and continually bring forward new ideas. As I wrap up my Board and Task Force roles, it is encouraging to see how the Chamber and our business community have advanced in the past 25 years — and particularly in recent years.

Despite the challenges highlighted by OneNS and the pandemic, Halifax has stepped up to wrestle with these issues and set our community on a solid path. Collectively, we have reversed the trend in Nova Scotia of seeing more people move away than stay. In the meantime, the Chamber continues its essential work — supporting diversity, prosperity, and opportunity in Halifax.

Volunteer Members of the Chamber’s Accessing a Skill Workforce Task Force

• Michele Peveril, Port of Halifax

• Brad Smith, Mainland Building Trades

• Captain Sean Williams, CFB Halifax

• Chantal Brine, EnPoint

• Chris Googoo, Ulnooweg

• Cynthia Dorrington, Vale & Associates

• David Rideout, Metroworks

• Faten Alshazly, We Us Them

• Jennifer Montgomery, Blue Door Group

• Jennifer Oldham, Intertalk Systems

• Joanne Bernard, Easter Seals of Nova Scotia

• Kenneth Oguzie, Africa Canada Trade and Investment Venture

• Lauren Murphy, The Clean Foundation

• Robert Wooden, Dalhousie University

• Robyn Byrne, Wilsons Heating & Security

• Suzanne Fougere, Events East Group

• Suzanne Rix, Cox & Palmer

• Yemi Akindoju, Vanity Fashions Limited

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