New year, new faces at the helm of the Fort St. John Chamber

The Fort St. John & District Chamber of Commerce has hired Cheryl Montgomery as its new executive director, and elected Christopher Flury as its new president.

Montgomery comes to the job just a short hop over the B.C.-Alberta border from Grande Prairie, where she's built a strong resume in marketing and communications, as well as the public sector. She fills the shoes of Lilia Hansen, who retired at the end of 2018 to focus on her family and city council duties.

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"I relocated for what I see as a great new opportunity with a lot of potential, for myself and the community," Montgomery said.

Montgomery, a self-proclaimed Grande Prairie lifer, owned an advertising and design agency for nine years, working on regional projects and business branding and marketing campaigns for businesses both small and large.

Montgomery sold her company in 2009 to work for the City of Grande Prairie on its Eastlink Centre project, where she was the marketing and events manager, leading communications, engagement, fund development, sponsorship, and tenant procurement for the facility. 

Montgomery left the city in 2015 to return to the private sector, continuing to work in marketing and communications for a firm providing services to companies in both Alberta and B.C. She began her master's degree in progressional communication at Royal Roads University in Victoria in 2018, a move she says ultimately brought her to Fort St. John.

Advocacy is one of the great components of good communication, Montgomery said.

"I see great opportunity to utilize some of my newly acquired MA education and previous employment skills to work directly with the community and the Chamber of Commerce to build membership value, and advocate on behalf of our members and community," Montgomery said.

Montgomery is also a 20-year Chamber of Commerce of Commerce veteran from Grande Prairie, and an 18-year Rotarian. She started her new post last Wednesday, and has been familiarizing herself with the foundations of the Chamber's policies and membership. 

With Montgomery comes a revamped Chamber board with a new executive led by president Christopher Flury. The executive is rounded out by Justin Mackinnon as treasurer, Julie Ziebart as first vice president, and Chuck Fowler as second vice-president. Nelson Stowe is past president.

Flury said Montgomery's background makes her a good addition to the Chamber.

"We have fantastic events, we have fantastic networking, but we don't beat our own chest for our successes, and I believe Cheryl will help us get down that path and make us a more visible Chamber in the area," Flury said.

Over the next year, the Chamber plans to bring its advocacy efforts to the forefront of its work, and hopes to grow its membership, currently around 400, by 10%, Flury said. It also hopes to see a 95% member retention rate.

"We took a couple years off from our advocacy efforts, and focused on our networking and getting people stronger here," Flury said.

Levelling the playing field with Alberta when it comes to taxes will be a key issue brought off the back burner when it comes to the Chamber's advocacy efforts. 

"It's big in the area, especially with the downturn, all the companies flocking from Alberta have come to Fort St. John. You see a lot more Alberta licence plates than you used to," Flury said.

"That being said, if they're doing it right, it just makes our businesses compete a little more. We'll look at levelling the playing field again and make sure that's still a focus."

The Chamber plans to poll its members throughout the year on a range of issues to help inform its advocacy work, from taxes to infrastructure, and how to continuing adding value to the Chamber membership. 

"We think the Chamber is sitting in a good position and we've brought in a fantastic ED to help us reach those (goals)," Flury said.

The next luncheon is scheduled for January 22 at the Pomeroy Hotel.

An economic forum with TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, is scheduled for January 30.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.
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