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Important that businesses have a unified voice: Sueling Ching

'Historically the Almaguin effort to promote itself has often been fragmented'
Sueling Ching, president of the Ottawa Board of Trade, was the keynote speaker at the RED Gala in Sundridge. Ching explained how collaborations and partnerships breed success.

Collaboration and working together were key points made by Sueling Ching at the Rural Economic Development (RED) Gala in Sundridge Monday evening.

Ching is the president of the Ottawa Board of Trade.

She was the keynote speaker at the gala which attracted 150 municipal politicians, organizations and groups from a cross-section of the Almaguin Highlands.

Ching told the audience she personally likes to win, and in fact, it's something she's very passionate about.

She pursues wins that last a long time and when groups and people work together and forge partnerships, Ching says everyone wins.

As an example, she noted that prior to Ottawa undergoing amalgamation in 2001 there were numerous chambers of commerce in each municipality.

Although some chambers merged or folded under amalgamation, Ching said there wasn't a unified voice to represent business because three chambers of commerce continued to exist post-amalgamation and that the “voice of business had become fragmented in Ottawa.”

Ching told the audience it was important that businesses have a unified voice regarding political decisions going on in Ottawa.

That one voice was finally achieved in 2018 when the three remaining chambers of commerce consolidated to create the new Ottawa Board of Trade.

Ching says shortly after the merger “the momentum from the business community grew.”

Although no one expected COVID-19 to hit and grind the economy to a halt, Ching said the formation of the Ottawa Board of Trade proved beneficial because it allowed the organization to provide better support to businesses during the pandemic.

“Everyone had to collaborate for our collective survival, “ Ching said.

Ching said what became evident during the pandemic is how health and the economy are intertwined.

She said this was easily proven when the economy was shut down with the flick of a switch in order to keep people safe.

But in doing this we impacted the financial, mental and physical well-being of people and she said that impact is still being felt today.

Ching said one group that was severely impacted by the pandemic was women.

She said many of the sectors that faced shutdowns are mostly populated by female workers and many working moms also had to switch to providing daycare for their children when schools were closed.

"As we continue to move forward in a post COVID environment, for the most part, women have not been included in the plan for recovery."

Ching said the pandemic revealed many faults but now “we have to leverage the lessons learned to maximize opportunity.”

“To get to the next level we all have to collaborate and work together,” she said.

Ching says we can't control global pressures and no one can go at it alone and expect to reach their full potential.

But she said identifying the challenges and working together on those challenges can produce positive results.

The audience also heard from Dave Gray the Director of Almaguin Community Economic Development (ACED) which hosted the RED Gala.

Gray provided a State of the Union update on where ACED has been and where it's headed in 2023 and beyond.

The big reveal was the branding strategy the economic organization has been working on to bring marketing and promotion efforts under one roof.

Just like how the business community in Ottawa didn't have a unified voice prior to the remaining chambers of commerce merging, Gray said historically the Almaguin effort to promote itself has often been fragmented.

Gray said the area has struggled to preach the benefits of the Almaguin Highlands but working together to “sing our stories” will add value to what the Highlands has to offer.

Gray says a branding strategy is a collective approach that will see communities, businesses, and entrepreneurs working together.

Several goals for 2023 were identified at the gala including profiling businesses in Almaguin, creating regional content not only for the locals but also for an external audience, recruiting more partners, and further improving the ACED website and social media platforms.

Gray said partnerships help build strong and resilient communities that help them prosper and he added collaborations have been a cornerstone in Almaguin's history.

He further said communities were able to persevere during the pandemic and ACED was there to help by delivering events and programs during the shutdown.

During the height of the pandemic ACED delivered 132 events to thousands of people in the region in a safe way.

That's what collaboration produces and in his closing remarks, Gray told the audience their help is still needed for the success stories to continue.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.