Sandy Casselman
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WINCHESTER – The North Dundas Chamber of Commerce was “back in business” and taking the time to “reimagine what business can look like” during their annual general meeting (AGM) last week. Held virtually, the May 26 meeting featured keynote speaker Lara Wellman of The Biz Studio, who discussed strategies for business planning in 2021. Wellman’s presentation followed the typical AGM format of welcoming new members, recapping the past year with an update on financials, and a look at what the future might hold.

Outgoing president Nelson Zandbergen welcomed viewers, noting this is the first AGM since January 2019, as last year’s meeting was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He then introduced Stormont, Dundas, and South Glengarry MP Eric Duncan, who made a few remarks, “Keep up the great work,” Duncan said, thanking the chamber for their continued community leadership.

Vice president Cheryl Beasley provided the financial report, noting a slight deficit. In 2018, the chamber’s membership was at its highest with 105 members. In 2019, membership had dropped to 85. Currently, the chamber has roughly 60 members. With nine openings on the board of directors, five new nominees were introduced and subsequently voted to the board. Each new member talked about their business and why they chose to join the board.

“I think this is a dynamic group of people here. I think we can do some really great things,” new member Dan Pettigrew said. His peers said similar things, noting the vital role of the chamber in supporting local business, as well as the part it plays in helping the community grow.

North Dundas economic development officer Stephen Mann said the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry (SDG)’s Regional Incentive Program (RIP) intake for 2021 will open the first week in June and run for two to three weeks. An additional intake will be held in July, he said, noting the RIP offers matching grants of up to $50,000 for businesses. The township’s Community Improvement Plan (CIP) is always accepting applications. Mann said he is available to help local businesses with the process for both the RIP and the CIP.

The final portion of the meeting included an interactive session with Wellman, who encouraged viewers to focus on what is working rather than what is not. She emphasized the importance of being intentional and reimagining what business looks like, as things will, no doubt, not go back to the “normal” that people remember.

“The new normal isn’t going to look like the old normal and that’s okay,” she said, pointing to the opportunity for businesses to be creative and to reimagine what can be. She suggested taking small steps, one at a time.

Wellman used Zoom Breakout Rooms to divide viewers into small discussion groups, where participants discussed the positives that have arisen since the pandemic. Accessibility, the ability for people who might not have been able to attend a meeting or event who can now do so due to the virtual format, was one of the major positives. In addition, working from home and joining meetings virtually can produce infrastructure and mileage savings.

“We’re in this together and we have to help each other,” Beasley said.

The election of the new executive was held following the public meeting. Nanda Wubs, owner of No Limits Auto Parts, was elected president, while Cheryl Beasley, owner of Simply Baked Catering, retained her position as vice president. Linda Vogel, owner of Linda’s Bookkeeping and Consulting and co-owner of The Chesterville Record and The Eastern Ontario AgriNews, was voted treasurer. Jen Feeny of Jen Feeny Marketing is the group’s secretary. Zandbergen, owner of Nation Valley News, is now past president. In addition to Feeny and Vogel, the chamber welcomed Loralee Carruthers (Century 21 and River’s Edge Ltd.), Dan Pettigrew (Winchester Foodland), and Trevor Watters (Watters Financial Group) to the membership.