The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce elected the second youngest president in its history last month.
Now, 31-year-old Mike Welte is looking to lead the local chamber into the future as it celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Born and raised in Abbotsford, Welte is a graduate of Yale Secondary and the University of the Fraser Valley where he earned a bachelors of business administration degree, majoring in accounting finance and minoring in economics.
He is currently manager of customer service at Farm Credit Canada.
Welte got involved with the chamber about seven years ago and was elected to the board four years ago.
For the last two years he has served as the chamber’s vice-president.
“The chamber has been really good to me. It’s allowed me to get involved in the community in a lot of different aspects,” said Welte.
That includes sitting on the city’s economic and agriculture advisory committees as well as working with the Community Foundation and the Rotary Club of Abbotsford-Matsqui.
He said the more he got involved, the more he realized how much good work it does.
“The chamber does so much for so many people.”
Unlike some chambers across the country, the Abbotsford chamber continues to thrive.
“We are very fortunate because our chamber is staying constant or growing annually, where a lot of chambers are losing membership. I think the key is to try and understand and stay relevant to your membership.”
Chambers have to address issues that the membership is concerned about. With that in mind, Welte said the chamber will take some time to work on two main points – communication with members, and advocacy efforts.
“I think once we understand what’s affecting all our members in the community, then we can really ramp up our advocacy efforts.”
One big issue facing members now is the looming B.C. election.
“There is some uncertainty about who’s going to get the crown, for lack of better words, in May. That opens up a whole onslaught of issues depending on who gets elected.”
The chamber will be hosting three all-candidates meetings, on April 30, May 2 and May 7, to allow members and the public to raise topics with the candidates.
Another item of concern to Welte is the “tax inequalities” between business and residential.
“Business people pay 2.6 times the rate of a residence so that’s another issue that is affecting their prosperity and I think as Abbotsford, we have an opportunity to create an environment in which we’re competitive on a municipal tax rate system.”
He’d like to determine a “competitive strategy” to lower taxes for business without shifting taxes to residents. That, he said, would create more jobs and a more prosperous economy.
“There’s two ways to deal with a budget, you increase revenues or you decrease expenses. So maybe there are some efficiencies on the expense side which we can pass some of that on to business.”
He said businesses could then reinvest in themselves, hire more employees, continue to grow and ultimately grow the local economy.
Another issue impacting chamber members is the increase in cross-border shopping.
Welte said it negatively impacts members.
“Ultimately, it hurts the local economy, because money is not reinvested in our economy.”
He said both the BC and the Canadian chambers are examining the issue, because if it’s impacting Abbotsford, it’s probably impacting border cities in Ontario as well.
Welte said he has a simple goal overall.
“My goal is to leave the organization in a better place for the future and I hope I can build on the great work of my predecessors to kind of move the organization forward a little bit.”