There’s a new chairperson at the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership (SLEP.)
Business owner Katherine Walker took on leadership of the partnership’s board this week at its annual meeting, stepping in for retiring chairperson Alex Palimaka, a senior executive at Bluewater Power.
Palimaka served for 13 years on the board of the Lambton County-funded economic development agency and had been its chairperson since 2018.
“We’ve done some incredible things and we’re going to continue to do some incredible things,” Palimaka said. “I think we can all take great comfort in the fact that SLEP is ready to soar as an organization. I look forward to watching from the outside as we soar.”
Walker worked in municipal administration before starting her first technology business.
She spoke about the community’s assets and said, “I think that what COVID-19 had taught us is that when faced with unprecedented challenges, we find innovative solutions.”
When the pandemic shutdown hit Ontario, the partnership’s nine-member staff quickly focused on helping existing businesses reacting to the economic impact of COVID-19, while working remotely and continuing efforts to attract new industries and jobs to the community.
“We’re still very actively working with companies that aren’t yet in Sarnia-Lambton, and are still interested in coming and setting up shop,” said partnership CEO Stephen Thompson.
The agency has also identified several more leads over the last couple of months, “which is ever so reassuring,” he said.
“We’ve also expanded our efforts on supporting existing businesses.”
That includes gathering and posting information on COVID-19-related resources for business on the partnership’s website.
“Businesses are stretched as well as stressed, and there’s a ton of information out there,” he said. “Businesses are really looking for help to navigate that information.”
Thompson also serves as chairperson of a local COVID-19 economic task force which was involved in efforts to aid the business recovery, including launching shoplambton.com, an online map designed to connect customers with businesses operating during the pandemic.
In the past year, the partnership also produced new marketing materials aimed at economic sectors it’s targeting, including bio and petrochemicals, value-added agriculture, advanced manufacturing and information technology. It also provided marketing material for each of the 11 municipalities in the county and assisted double the number of existing local businesses it expected to when the year began, Thompson said.
Another highlight from the past year was becoming an accredited economic development office after successfully completing a peer review with the International Economic Development Council, Thompson said.
He added it “provides a mark of credibility to our activities and our interactions with our clients.”