Vanier merchants gain new voice on municipal issues

Small businesses in Vanier and across Ottawa have a new advocate promoting their interests at city hall.

The Ottawa Coalition of BIAs (OCOBIA) brings together Ottawa’s 19 BIAs, which collectively represent more than 6,200 businesses that stretch from the suburbs to the inner city. The chair of this new coalition will be familiar to many in the Vanier business community: Mark Kaluski, who also chairs the Vanier BIA board.

Mark Kaluski“We finally have buy-in from the majority of the BIAs and a long-term commitment to funding it,” says Kaluski, adding that the new organization has hired “an incredibly motivated and effective executive director” in Lindsay Hugenholtz-Sherk.

OCOBIA will focus on city policies that affect small businesses in Ottawa, creating a single voice to effectively advocate for the interests of BIA members. 

It will also help BIAs operate more efficiently by taking on issues common to multiple BIAs.

“BIAs will be re-directing a small portion of their funds toward supporting OCOBIA and in return, the BIA will save time and energy that is duplicated in each BIA finding out and speaking on what’s happening at city hall that impacts them,” says Kaluski. “Our executive director will also be promoting the interests of BIAs and seeking out mutually beneficial partnerships in the city.”

Partnership is the overall theme of this new venture: business and politics coming together for everyone’s benefit. Small businesses are the engine that drives the city’s economy, creating jobs, drawing tourists and shaping neighbourhoods. But business interests can be sometimes overlooked at city hall. Kaluski and Hugenholtz-Sherk are on a mission to change that.

“Our first issue is to increase the profile of BIAs at the city and with the partners in Ottawa’s economic development landscape,” says Kaluski. “OCOBIA represents over 6,200 businesses and properties, which contribute over $100 million dollars in tax revenues to the city. We are nimble organizations that are able to respond to unique challenges in the different areas we serve. We can be strong partners with the city.”

Kaluski became chair of the Vanier BIA in 2013 and helped the organization bring together its diverse membership following an expansion of its boundaries to include businesses as far east as St. Laurent Boulevard and north to Beechwood Avenue.

Kaluski says that experience will help him in his new OCOBIA role.

“I believe in the power of the collective,” he says. “I am proud of the early successes but know that there will be many more challenges ahead. I’d like to leave the organization in strong financial health, with robust governance and an engaged, effective membership.”

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