Although a “state of the town” address is common in other municipalities, it isn’t a tradition in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Eduardo Lafforgue, president and CEO of the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, wants it to become an annual event, beginning this year.
It is also customary for it to be hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce, and is typically held early in a new year as a way to reflect on the past year and look at goals for the future, he says. When he decided this was the year to establish a new tradition, and asked Lord Mayor Betty Disero if she would participate, she didn’t hesitate, immediately agreeing to do it.
“It’s a role we haven’t played in the past, and should have,” says Lafforgue.
“I hope it will become an annual ‘must-attend’ event with the lord mayor.”
It is often held as a breakfast meeting, and Lafforgue says he would like to do that in the future, but for this year will be a virtual event, open at no charge to anyone interested in listening, although registration is required.
It gives Disero an opportunity to talk to the business community and the community at large about the past year, achievements, accomplishments and challenges, and also what lies ahead, in terms of goals, challenges and opportunities for 2021.
And while 2020 and 2021 are very different than any other year because of the pandemic, for businesses and residents, “this is the main reason we’re doing it. It’s essential,” says Lafforgue.
It was mostly due to the pandemic that the local chamber became a member of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and several other business and tourism associations, all of which gave access to more resources and shared ideas on how to get through a difficult time for businesses, and can provide a larger forum of advocacy than the chamber could manage on its own.
“We can make a lot of noise, but we are still a small chamber,” he said, although membership has grown in the last year. “I’m delighted to see the support of the community and businesses, at a time when many chambers have lost memberships.”
It is also a time when more businesses can reopen, and Lafforgue says he encourages them to do so.
Bed and breakfasts and local hotels are receiving reservations from people ready to get out and enjoy “some level of activity,” and residents will be looking to do that as well, he says, which is welcome news for businesses.
There has been some changeover of businesses, with some closing and new ones moving in, “and likely more to come,” Lafforgue says, and although it’s sad to see closures, it’s gratifying there is still confidence in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and that others are creating new businesses. “It’s a positive sign that people are still investing in the town.”
Lafforgue is optimistic for the future, with indications that destinations such as NOTL are “poised for recovery,” as people turn to day trips, or those that are two to three days in duration, generally within about 200 kilometres of a populated centre.
That benefitted businesses last summer, and “we’re working on it for this summer, but only if it’s safe. Safety and cleanliness is the top priority.”
There are several contingency plans for marketing this summer, with different scenarios depending on where we are in the pandemic, and what is considered safe, he says. The chamber will be prepared to activate a marketing plan as soon as they have the information they need to go ahead.
According to Destination Canada, some places could be recovered by the end of 2022, while other locations are looking at 2026.
“We’re doing whatever we can to be in the front row, to be sure we can be successful. But it’s so important to have the lord mayor and the business community at the same table. Our mandates are different, but working together is very important.”
Disero says she welcomes any opportunity to speak to the public “about what we’re doing, and what our vision is for the future. That is so important for the public to know.”
She was a little surprised to get the request, since it’s an event that hasn’t been held before in NOTL, but pleased to do it.
In December, Disero released a two-year update, in print and on a 10-minute video, which included a list of accomplishments similar to what she is being asked to speak about in the State of the Town address. Her plan is to “revise it and talk about the year to come as well.”
It helped her to write it down and see how much has been achieved by the town and council, she says. “We’ve been busy, and we’ve done a lot of good. People don’t always see that.” She has received a positive response from some residents who were also impressed with how much has been accomplished, she says, and welcomes the opportunity to reach more members of the public with her message through the chamber event.
There is also time for questions during the upcoming webinar, and Disero says she values getting feedback from the public that will be helpful when changes need to be made. “That’s the way we live. Things are changing all the time.”
The State of the Town webinar will be held Wednesday, March 24, at 7 p.m.
Registration is through the NOTL Chamber of Commerce by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 905-468-1950.
Questions can also be submitted by email or by calling the chamber.