Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 18, 2024
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Meet the CEO

After five years on the board, Duarte Da Silva is now the head of the PEC Chamber of Commerce
<p>Duarte Da Silva (Photo: Jason Parks / Gazette Staff)</p>
Duarte Da Silva (Photo: Jason Parks / Gazette Staff)

Duarte Da Silva started coming to the County in 2008, drawn by its nascent winemaking culture. The specialist in tech finance volunteered weekends and worked vacations at various wineries to learn about growing, harvesting, producing, and of course tasting. 

He made the move to permanent in 2015, and joined PEC Wine, becoming the organization’s first Executive Director.

He now lives in Rossmore with Sarah Ostwald, owner of Cherry Bomb Coffee. He’s also a partner in County Co-Working, a networking group for the County’s remote workers.

He has served as the Chamber’s interim CEO since the departure of Lesley Lavender in February.

“That gives me a strategic perspective,” he laughs. “I see both sides.”

“I have personally met 160 of our members, and that frames my understanding that my job now is to focus on our 300 members. We have 300 stories to tell.”

“Also, they are the ones that are going to tell me what to do.”

First on the agenda is funding. “The chamber can only do so much, as it is 100 per cent member funded,” he notes.

After paying its two full-time staff — a third, Erin Braney, left recently to pursue a teaching career —there’s not a lot left over.

One of the plans is to leverage the Chamber’s prominent Picton Main Street store front on the Armoury plaza.

“I want to cultivate members’ sense of ownership in the Chamber,” he says. “Boards of Trade used to be the town hub. We want to bring that feeling back.”

Certainly, the last few times I’ve dropped in, Duarte has been there, jumping up from his desk, ready and willing to share intel and stories. He’s a lot of fun, and clearly loves to be at the center of things, on Main Street as well as in the County’s business and politics. He is determined to raise the profile of business in PEC — over a glass, at social events — but there’s a serious agenda as well.

The CEO has his eye on the roughly 700 County businesses who are not currently members. “The more members we have the more ability we have to speak and act.”

The Chamber belongs to a network of 150 Chambers in Ontario with 60,000 members. That’s a lot of heft when it comes to advocacy at the provincial and federal levels.

He wants that clout in the County as well.

“It’s my job to make sure Council recognizes and supports the business community in every possible way.”

Tumultuous Times for Business

It’s no secret that the last few years have been tough. “These are tumultuous times. With high debt matched with high interest rates, and inflation increasing the cost of goods, businesses face challenges. And 99 per cent of business in the County is small business.”

“The Chamber has to advocate for them and make sure the business environment in the County is the best it can be.”

“We’ve been lucky to have Councillor Chris Braney on the board. He’s a small business owner himself. We also have the unequivocal support of Mayor Steve Ferguson, as well as staff members Emily Cowan and Karen Palmer. They’ve been real supports.”

“The municipality is a huge partner in everything we do.”

Top of mind is the County’s tourist trade. “I want to make our tourist-related businesses part of the agenda and make sure they are supported.”

“The Chamber represents a large portion of tourist-related commerce across sectors — accommodations, the arts, wine, of course, food, agriculture, and trades.”

“Tourism brought in $30.6 million dollars last year. $1.2 million went directly to the County in MAT, the municipal accommodation tax.”

Recruitment Crucial

“Members and potential members alike need to recognize the value of the Chamber in terms of advocacy and benefits. The Chamber Plan suite of group health and dental benefits, for example, is available to local employers at much lower rates than are generally available. It’s a huge advantage.”

Mr. Da Silva has a number of initiatives in mind. He wants to create a “Doors Open Chamber,” with experts available for a walk-in session on navigating municipal regulations, financial services, local opportunities for funding, and other subjects of interest to small business owners and start-ups.

A mentorship program will connect established business leaders with newcomers and increase member networking opportunities.

And in the meantime, there are parties. The Chamber’s marquee event, the Business Excellence Awards, is planned for the Cape again this winter.

A Connecting the County Summer Social is in June.

And next year, in 2025, the Chamber celebrates 120 years of business in the County.

“We are older than the Armoury. We are even older than the Regent,” he says with a smile. 

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 19 edition of The Picton Gazette
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