The new direction the Altona and District Chamber of Commerce has taken appears be working. That was part of the message Thursday night at the organization's annual general meeting

The organization set out a new course about two years ago to focus more of its energy on serving its business members instead of organizing community events.

Chamber President Jared Barnabe said they have a strong manager in place who is driving the board's agenda, and the feedback has been very positive.

"The key indicator for us is our membership is increasing every year by quite a bit, and the events we are now hosting continue to grow as well," said Barnabe. "Members are seeing more value, and they like where we are going with things, and we're getting a lot of good feedback. So, we need to continue to hit our goals."

The Chamber registered 32 new members in 2017 and now has 170 members in total.

Things have been going so well that the multi-year strategic plan the Chamber laid out at the beginning of 2017 was almost completed last year.

"We had to re-evaluate that plan, because so much has been accomplished to this point, so we made a couple of amendments. The biggest change in the plan will involve work to bridge the gap between businesses and government. There's a lot of misinformation going around, so we want to make sure our members are fully aware of what's happening through information sessions with professionals to provide the hard facts on issues affecting our members."

The election of officers saw Barnabe returning as President of the organization, Travis Derksen returns as vice-president, Adam Mace remains as treasurer and Craig Neufeld will serve as secretary.

Meanwhile, it appears local municipal leaders and the area business community are teaming up to help speed up economic development in Altona and Rhineland.melvin klassen chamber 2018Melvin Klassen

In his annual state-of-the-town address Altona Mayor Melvin Klassen revealed plans to assemble a local committee or corporation made up of local business leaders and municipal officials that will focus on growing the local community, specifically the population.

"We feel population growth will help our local businesses, and that's where we want to be more aggressive," said Klassen. "So, jointly we're looking at hiring an economic development officer who would spearhead this and work with us. Now, the business leaders are saying if we can bring in an EDO they would be willing to contribute their expertise to make sure the town does grow."

Klassen says the EDO would primarily work with local businesses in expanding their operations and helping to attract new business to the community in an effort to create more jobs.

The mayor says discussions with Rhineland are still being finalized, and funding will need to be allocated in this year's budgets for the EDO position.

"I'm hoping we can put this into our budgets now so that we can have this going by May at the earliest. It all depends on how discussions will roll out with the municipality, but I'm optimistic we'll get something done."

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