One-On-One with Keanin Loomis
President and CEO of Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Keanin Loomis had a chat with CanadianSME to talk about how Hamilton Chamber is helping SMEs scale their businesses, the most common challenges that SME owners face in Hamilton and how to overcome these challenges with the programs that they provide.
Keanin is the President & CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. Prior to that, he was Chief Operating Officer of Innovation Factory, located at McMaster Innovation Park, and a lawyer at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, DC.
He is a graduate of the University of Waterloo and the College of William & Mary School of Law. He lives with his wife and three children in Downtown Hamilton.
How is the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce helping SME owners grow their business?
SMEs comprise nearly 85% of our membership, therefore assisting in their growth is a key priority of our organization. We support our SME members by providing meaningful connections and leads, advocating at all levels of government on their behalf, promoting Hamilton businesses through a variety of local, regional and national media outlets, and offering solutions to everyday challenges. We always encourage our members, particularly the small ones, to see us as their lifeline in business.
What would you say are some of the accomplishments that you have had since you’ve been President and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce?
When I took on this role in the summer of 2013, I was tasked with making a 170-year-old institution a relevant, 21st-century organization. I am very proud of what we have accomplished in the past five years. We have grown from a staff of four to a staff of eleven, which gives us greater capacity to meet and exceed the needs and expectations of our members. We also most recently had the best financial year in the history of the organization, which is a great testament to our capability and impact.
In 2016, we launched our CEOs of Hamilton initiative, which convenes the top leadership in the city with an aim to drive tangible progress for Hamilton. Additionally, we have launched numerous new and exciting initiatives, including Canada’s Innovation Corridor Summit in partnership with the Toronto Region Board of Trade and the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber, which strengthens bonds across our region so that we can compete globally.
SME’s are crucial to Canada’s economy and combine 99% of the country’s business industry. Would you say that they also have a huge impact on Hamilton’s economy?
Small businesses are definitely the backbone of our economy too. Our local stats show that businesses with less than 100 employees account for 98% of the businesses in Hamilton Due to Hamilton’s ability to foster a startup and scale-up environment, the data also demonstrates that many of these SMEs go on to become large businesses, resulting in increased economic impact and job creation for the City overall.
What are some of the challenges you face on a daily basis and how do you overcome them?
Well, if you’re asking personally, there are the practical challenges of balancing work and home life. My wife has a big job herself, so getting three kids out the door in the morning and to their various activities at night, is always a scheduling challenge. But I’ve overcome that by being well-organized, efficient and by hiring great people that help with the heavy lifting. If you’re talking about the challenges in running the organization, I’d say it’s our relative lack of resources.
Hamilton is a historic Canadian city, but not a city with a lot of wealth or large private sector employers. That means change is incremental and requires a lot of hustle, bootstrapping and collaboration. The pace of change can be frustrating, but that makes moments of progress more rewarding as well.
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce helps business owners overcome some of the challenges that they face. What are some of the most common challenges that SME owners come across in Hamilton?
So many SME owners are experts at what they do, but not so in building or sustaining a business. I always say that to be successful, you need to have friends in business – customers, suppliers, partners, even just someone to commiserate with. That’s where our facilitation of connections is important. Our organization also hears a lot about difficulties navigating city regulations, which is why we sit on the Open For Business Sub-Committee at City Hall, where we work to ensure existing and prospective businesses have an easier time operating in Hamilton. We also hear of difficulty in finding the right talent. Not that we have a dearth of talent –
we have great post-secondary institutions in Hamilton – but it’s just hard to figure out where to look. That’s why we’ve launched our Magnet jobs platform, which is like Match.com but for employment.
Can you talk about some of the programs and resources that the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce provides to business owners?
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce offers numerous programs and resources to assist SMEs. In 2018, we launched Magnet, which as I said, is a job-matching technology that quickly and accurately connects job seekers to the right opportunities. The program assists SMEs to overcome the two greatest barriers to hiring quality talent – time and money. Magnet is free to use and provides employers with quality applicants who match their exact criteria. In the spring of 2019, the Chamber will also launch our partnership with Digital Main Street, a free digital transformation support program for small businesses.
The program will launch this year with our local BIAs, however, we hope to expand the scope of the project in the coming year. The Chamber also offers numerous affinity programs, helping SMEs keep the cost of doing business low, including an excellent group insurance plan, as well as discounts on gas, merchant services, and office supplies.
What are some of the business development opportunities that the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce provides to SME owners?
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce offers SMEs numerous opportunities to expand and grow their network, not only through our popular monthly Business After Business networking events but also through Connections, the Chamber’s category-exclusive networking group. Many of our SMEs also benefit from our active Young Entrepreneurs and Professionals division (YEP), which offers professional and business development resources for those under the age of 40. Additionally, the Chamber provides SME members with regular updates on government policy changes and its potential impact on business, as well as any grant or funding opportunities they may be eligible for. Outside of that, all of our staff are tasked with making connections across the membership – some of our most rewarding work is when we introduce two entrepreneurs we think should know each other and then we find out later that the relationship has yielded benefits for both.
What advice can you give to SME owners who are looking to grow their business?
Again, you need friends in the business to survive. Surround yourself with good people and keep growing your network. I would obviously strongly suggest business owners become a member of their local chamber and let the good folks there know what it is you need. After that, I would suggest you keep in touch with your chamber representative because your circumstances and pain points are always changing. That ensures that you are top of mind and it helps them respond to your evolving needs. I would also recommend business owners investigate what services and resources are available through your municipality’s economic development department and small business enterprise center.