Business people are community activists

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Sitting amid the near 200 attendees of the Pontiac Chamber of Commerce’s annual business awards gala, October 24, I smiled at the old faces I recognized – and marvelled at so many new ones – all celebrating our business community and its entrepreneurs. I recognized a few members from the old days of the Pontiac Business and Tourism Association, but there were so many faces I did not recognize!
This mix of old and new led me to reflect on what makes an entrepreneur in the first place: what drives a person to start or take over a business in today’s difficult time when the economy isn’t growing and in our sparsely populated region?
Certainly it isn’t because of help from our federal and provincial governments, although their agencies do support events like these. The SADC and CLD play very helpful roles for the business community, but that is more the measure of their quality people on the ground here.
Nor are our entrepreneurs encouraged by unquestioning support from our small towns – so many folks still take their shopping dollars “off shore” and shop outside the Pontiac. 
So why have we any entrepreneurs at all? Why these new faces, both male and female, starting and operating businesses and services? Why are the business veterans still working, and still serving our region?
It’s absolutely critical that we do not confuse small businesses and their owner-operators with the corporate world of our national economy. Suncor has little in common with Hayes Manufacturing; the massive insurance firms share few concerns with Valley Mutual; Cargil Grain is light-years away from Elmside View Farms; Postmedia and the Pontiac Journal are hardly bedfellows. These giants deal with international projects and contracts; they play hard with currency exchanges, tax shelters, and international trade pacts. Although we all use corporate structures, our worlds are so different they are, very often, in conflict.
Entrepreneurs, I reflected as I looked about the busy Auberge Mont Blanc, all share one clear element: we are dreamers! That vision of owning one’s own business is such a powerful motivator, and the dream of being one’s own boss in a world full of heavy-handed regimentation and regulation, drives us all to mortgage our homes and dedicate our waking hours to building our businesses. This dream demands incredible risk-taking, risks most people would never dream of undertaking.
The big corporate world is not so motivated. It operates not from one person or one family’s dream, but by a drive for shareholder profit and market dominance. Little common ground.
This difference is emphasized by the fact that on the same night as the Chamber’s gala, the Regional Association of West Quebecers held its awards banquet, just down the river, celebrating the volunteers of the year.
In a way, both events honoured the same thing: community activism.
Business people are the first community activists. We depend on our communities in a way no social club or sports volunteer does. If a business doesn’t provide a service and doesn’t meet the needs of the people living around it, that business fails. Pretty strong motivation for community involvement!
And their success means a stronger and more cohesive community. More services, more shops, more jobs. This relationship goes both ways, our community and our businesses: mutual need and mutual success.
That’s the dream and the vision, the motivation to contribute to our community, that brings new faces every year and keeps us older veterans coming back. Good work, Chamber of Commerce! Bravo, Pontiac!