By Jeff Trotman
The Linden Chamber of Commerce is attempting to lift its image and to be more effective as the representative body for the private sector within the town of Linden.
In making the disclosure in an exclusive interview with Stabroek News on Monday, newly- elected President of the Chamber, Kevin De Jonge, said a new executive body was installed following elections at the AGM on 28 November, 2013.
Stressing that the objectives of the Linden Chamber of Commerce include lobbying on behalf of businesses that operate in Linden and to foster economic growth of the community, De Jonge said many residents of Linden “were aware that the chamber was not living up to its expectation,” and the current executive body is putting measures in place to correct that situation by establishing three committees, which will respectively focus on: (1) a membership drive; (2) boosting agriculture, which is a key area; and, (3) fundraising.
“These are the main areas, which we are trying to push,” De Jonge said. “As we speak, there is on going talks with prominent members of the agri community, including Mr. Stephen Bovell, who is a vice president of the Chamber and the person heading the agriculture committee.”
De Jonge, who runs an educational institute in Linden, pointed out that the Linden Chamber of Commerce has been constrained by the lack of funds. He said the Chamber does not receive a subvention from the government or any other entity – and rightly so – since it is supposed to be an autonomous body.
He also disclosed that the Linden Chamber has just over forty members of which 23 are financial. De Jonge also disclosed that the Linden Chamber obtains its funding to do business through membership subscription and two major activities – the Linden Expo and a luncheon.
According to him, the chamber is exploring new avenues of bringing in additional funds – not to compete with its members – in its effort to be able to function as an independent and viable entity.
He said over the past two months the Chamber has been trying to categorize its membership into big business and small business. He said that once one has a registered business one is eligible to become a member of the Chamber. He said the big businesses, which are usually corporate entities such as the commercial banks, GT&T, LUSCSL and LEN pay a different level of subscription to the small businesses, which pay a membership subscription fee of $6,000 a year.
“For the past two months, we have been out and about, talking to people and I realize that there are persons, who have the potential to grow but because they see themselves at the bottom of the economic chain, they have not been able to realize that hidden potential.”
De Jonge added that since the new executive has been in office, it has been concentrating on ways of advancing the economic development of the community. “So, we’ve been trying to engage the major stakeholders. Week before the last, we paid a courtesy call on the Regional Chairman.
According to him, the Linden chamber has a very good relationship with the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and, from time to time, engages in consultation with it. De Jonge also disclosed that the Linden Chamber was once a member of the Associa-tion of Regional Chambers as well as the Private Sector Commission. “But we are not a part of any of those bodies, right now.”
Involvement in town week
De Jonge said that since he was elected to office in November last year, the Chamber has not been formally consulted by the Linden Town Week Committee in relation to planning for this year’s town week – billed for April month end – but out of personal interest, he attended one of the planning meetings.
He stressed that traditionally the Linden Chamber of Commerce holds the Linden Expo during town week and the Chamber is working on having a better Expo this year than last year. “We will be including the farmers in Linden Expo. Our aim is to push the agriculture sector so we want the farmers to play a major role.”
He also said the Chamber is also looking to showcase local woodwork manufacturers and agro processing during the Linden Expo.
Lending agencies and training
De Jonge said the Chamber is also speaking directly to financing agencies such as Republic Bank to see how they can provide loans to members of the chamber.
He said the Chamber recently facilitated a seminar through which small and potential manufacturers had their applications for loans vetted by the Chamber and sent to the small business bureau.
He said another area of concern is garbage and now that the Chamber is getting feedback from the businesses, it can plan an agenda.
It will engage the municipality in the hope of adopting a similar programme to the “Pick It Up” programme that has been launched country-wide.
Noting that LEN is a member of the Chamber, De Jonge said LEN had a new Board installed in December and the relationship between LEN and the Chamber is a work in progress.
He said the Chamber is currently in the process of engaging Sebrae, a business group from Northern Brazil that visited Linden a few years ago during the Linden Town Week with interest in working closely.