The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce wants to see the city find efficiencies through digitization and also create a strategic plan for its facilities.

Local chamber of commerce president Charla Robinson spoke to city council on Sept. 24 during a special council meeting to discuss the program and service review prepared by Grant Thornton earlier this year.

Council was presented with the report in June and asked for time to review the report and engage feedback from the public.

Robinson gave the first deputation of the evening to city council and noted the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the business community.

The chamber represents 800 businesses that employ 20,000 people in Thunder Bay.

In a survey administered to the business community in August, 32 per cent of respondents said they’ve seen a loss of more than 50 per cent of their revenues and another 30 per cent have lost more than $100,000 in revenues to date since the start of the pandemic.

About 20 per cent of businesses say the impacts of the pandemic may put them out of business.

The chamber has advocated for a program and service review for years, said Robinson, adding the importance of the review with the fiscal realities of the pandemic.

The program and service review outlines 45 recommendations and the chamber noted two areas they’d like to see the city focus on.

The first is digitization of services. Robinson said the construction industry and building owners still need to provide paper copies of designs and plans to city departments and tenants of city-owned buildings aren’t able to provide rent through auto-deposits.

Parking meters still require change or a parking card that must be purchased in-person and parking tickets aren’t able to be paid online.

Water and property tax accounts also aren’t able to be managed online.

“Digitizing city operations will require an upfront investment of time and money that should start with customer-facing services including building and planning, water, tax collections and parking,” said Robinson. “We believe they return on investment through improved customer service, enhanced efficiency, collection of data on metrics and performance measures, and the elimination of wasteful practices demonstrates leadership and positions Thunder Bay for the next decade of prosperity.”

Strategic plan for city facilities also needed, says chamber

The chamber of commerce also wants to see a strategic plan regarding the city’s facilities. Robinson noted decisions on independent facilities and buildings are made in isolation with no guiding philosophy and she said the business community feels there is a “fundamental lack of a clear vision or strategic plan.”

The business community consistently asked “what is the city trying to be?”

“The business community would like to see leadership on this issue as it affects the kinds of economic opportunities and quality of life choices that build a true community,” said Robinson. “We need council to propose a vision for what the city should look like and a roadmap to get there.”

She added a clear strategic plan could mean cost cutting at some facilities, but also significant investment at others.