Business: Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade - An Important Strategy for Business Owners

By Gilda Spitz

"Chamber of Commerce"? "Board of Trade"? What's the difference?

Are you confused about the terminology? If so, that's not surprising, because the two terms are interchangeable.

No matter what you call it, a Chamber of Commerce (CoC) or Board of Trade (BoT) is, according to Wikipedia, a not-for-profit business network whose goal is to improve business in a particular city or region through networking, lobbying, and services. Keith Bray, President and CEO of the Markham Board of Trade, says that membership "is seen almost as a 'Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval' in the business community."

About 13,000 CoCs and BoTs are registered in the official World Chambers Network registry. There are over 100 groups in Ontario, of which about 20 are in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

So… if you run your own business, should you join your local group? Here's some useful information that may help you decide if membership in your local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade is right for you.

General advantages of membership

In general, the focus of a Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade is "the financial well-being of its members," says Bray.

Advocacy with government

A key function of a Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade is to help government - at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels - understand the needs of businesses, including those of immigrants, and to urge those governments to enact or change legislation accordingly.

For example, the Toronto Board of Trade is currently working on a project to encourage the Canadian government to ease its restrictions regarding the recognition of foreign credentials for professionals such as doctors and engineers.

Basic benefits and services

Almost all Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade offer standard benefits and services, such as:

  • Networking opportunities with prospective clients and other business people
  • Access to special events such as networking breakfasts, seminars, and trade shows
  • Discounts on services such as insurance, telephone systems, and couriers
  • Access to business publications such as salary surveys, guidebooks, and contact lists
  • Opportunity to list your business information in official Chamber publications and web site
  • Access to Chamber facilities for business meetings

Special services for its particular region

In addition to general benefits and services, a Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade sometimes provides services of particular value to its own region. For example:

  • The Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Markham Board of Trade offer a unique joint program for their area of southern York Region. To deal with the high traffic problems on Highway 7, they have developed a pilot project called Smart Commute 404-7, designed to help business people find alternate means of transportation in the area. As a pilot project for a limited time, they are even providing a free shuttle bus in the Beaver Creek area. "
  • When a large proportion of the locality's population consists of newcomers to Canada, most CoCs and BoTs offer special services for business people who are immigrants. For more information, read on.

Special advantages for newcomers

Any business owner can benefit from the services of a Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade. But membership can be particularly useful for newcomers to Canada.

For newcomers, membership in a Chamber of Commerce can be "a quick start to meeting people in the community," says Leslie Walker, CEO of the Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce. "You can meet prospective clients and associates, and you can form lasting relationships."

Bray of the Markham Board of Trade says that a CoC or BoT "encourages all new members to get out to events and meet people, to create a network that will help the business of the newcomer prosper." He adds that his Board represents one of the most diverse communities in Southern Ontario, and has an active Diversity Committee and immigrant mentoring program.

A Chamber of Commerce can be particularly helpful when the business culture in Canada is very different from the business culture that you knew in your home country. "What better way is there to start a business in Canada than to have a mentor with whom you can discuss ideas?" Walker adds.

The Brampton Board of Trade is very proactive in its support of its immigrant business community. In addition to offering its main web site in five languages - English, Punjabi, Portuguese, Italian, and French - it also provides a separate web site for a program called Skills Without Borders, designed to raise awareness about labour needs in the region of North Peel. It promotes "the benefits of employing immigrants, to support the labour needs of our employers," says Sheldon Leiba, General Manager.

The Brampton Board of Trade also has a Multicultural Committee, whose goal is to develop strategies to support ethnic-owned businesses, and to help immigrants get integrated as employers and workers. "If we do a good job on this, there is long-term benefit for our community and our economy," adds Leiba.

Cost of membership

The cost of joining a Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade varies, depending on the size of your business.

For example, in the Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce, small businesses with fewer than six employees can join for $318, while businesses having more than 500 employees would pay over $1,000 for membership.

The Brampton Board of Trade has a similar sliding scale, starting at $231 annually for a business with one to four employees, all the way up to over $2,300 for a business with more than 2000 employees.

For cost details for the Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade near you, check the appropriate web site. For more information about the Toronto Board of Trade, also see the article on page ??.

Contact information

For more information about the Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade near you, visit the web site of the following groups in southern Ontario:

For more general information, or to find the contact information for a CoC or BoT that does not appear in the list above, you can also visit:

CNM