New Chamber of Commerce President Keanin Loomis talks about the Chamber's policy directions, its role in Hamilton's urban economy, changing the status quo, and reinvigorating the city's streets.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 06, 2013
Keanin Loomis has been confirmed as the new President and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.
Loomis and his family moved to Hamilton in 2009 after living in Washington D.C., and he immediately began to learn about his new city and how he could get involved in its renaissance. He documented some of his experiences in a series of articles on RTH.
By 2010, he was already calling for a "bold and inspirational agenda" to transform Hamilton into a city that celebrates and fosters creativity and entrepreneurialism. In May of that year, he was appointed the chief operating officer of Innovation Factory, Hamilton's not-for-profit Regional Innovation Centre to support new technology startups.
Meanwhile, David Adames was appointed the President and CEO of the Chamber in 2011, replacing outgoing President John Dolbec. Adames launched the Chamber on a program of renewal to make the Chamber more relevant to a new generation of young, small business owners.
When Adames left earlier this year to take a job as a senior business development director with the Niagara Parks Commission, Loomis saw an opportunity. The Chamber board, in turn, saw someone who could continue to move forward the change agenda that Adames had set in motion.
Loomis agreed to answer some questions about his new role.
Ryan McGreal, Raise the Hammer: How does your experience with Innovation Factory prepare you for your role as president and CEO of the Chamber?
Keanin Loomis: Over the last few years, I've gotten to know the Hamilton business community very well, so I have established relationships with most of its top leaders. As well, though "innovation" has become such an overused buzzword, it really is a culture and practice that needs to be embraced by all institutions in our society, including Chambers of Commerce, to remain relevant (and competitive, as the case may be).
We talk about skating to where the puck is going to be: we've built an organization that is creating the businesses of tomorrow. Finally, my experience with overseeing the operations of this non-profit have prepared me well for my role in overseeing the operations of the Chamber, which is also a non-profit.
RM: What role can/should the Chamber play in Hamilton's future?
KL: The Chamber must be: 1) a facilitator of business between members, and on behalf of members looking to do business outside of the region, 2) a thought leader by developing policy proposals that enhance the business environment in the community, and 3) a voice for business, vis-à-vis all levels of government (but especially municipal) and as an advocate within and outside the community.
Above all, the Chamber needs to be a backbone, city-building institution because virtually all issues impact business in the community.
RM: What do you see as the Chamber's biggest priorities in terms of policy development?
KL: The first thing that needs to be done is to build the capacity to develop policy. With David, policy development was a one-person operation and he intended to staff up before he left.
Ultimately the direction of the organization depends upon the membership and the board, but I think that most members understand that progressive, urbanist policies that benefit our downtown core will also benefit the entire community.
Light Rail Transit (LRT) is obviously one of them and the Chamber is playing a huge role in being the voice for the community through the LRT Taskforce - that matter is just heating up and will occupy much of my time.
That's not to say that there aren't a whole host of other policies, rural, urban and suburban and in every sector, in which the Chamber must take a role, either centrally or peripherally.
RM: The Chamber has been taking more progressive positions on policy issues in recent years. Why is that, and will it continue?
KL: I first have to give tremendous credit to the board, which comprises many dynamic community leaders who are doing their part to make this city great again. I wouldn't have taken the job if they didn't want me to be who I am or push for the things I believe in. And the board reflects the membership.
Whether it's shifting demographics or a new understanding among the membership of how vibrant, successful communities are built, no one is satisfied with the status quo.
RM: What is the distribution of Chamber members between small and large businesses?
KL: No idea - I have to dive into that once I take over.
RM: What role will young, small businesses play in the city's economic development?
KL: They are already a huge part of the city's economy and will remain so. We will fill up most of the empty storefronts and office space in this city with small businesses, many of them started by young people. HIVE will continue to receive the Chamber's full backing.
RM: How about your well-known and long-standing support for Complete Streets?
KL: For every newcomer and visitor to this city, our one-way streets are our most jarring (and scarring) characteristic. It's so apparent right away how these thoroughfares kill the corridors they knife through.
In vibrant cities, main streets have the highest property values. In our city, they have the lowest. What are we losing in terms of vitality and tax dollars as a result?
We know the studies, we know the best practices, we have our own history to guide us (James and John), and we've seen a recent survey that most of the opposition to reconverting the streets to two-way is simply emotional. Which means we just need leadership and courage to act in the best interests of the city.
For me, complete streets is not just an equity issue, a health issue, a safety issue or a neighborhood vitality issue, but also an economic and small business issue that necessitates the involvement of the Chamber.
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