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Member Spotlight

The Economy Builders: Sooke Chamber of Commerce

By March 17, 2023August 30th, 2023No Comments

Situated down a singular, long, windy highway corridor on the outskirts of the Capital Regional District (CRD), Sooke is a unique outlier among its other 12 sibling municipalities. To get here, it has to be ‘on purpose.’” 

Those are the words of Britt Santowski, Executive Director of the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce, who we interviewed for this episode of SIPP’s Economy Builders blog. 

Read on as we talk to Britt about how one of British Columbia’s fast-growing and youngest municipalities (incorporated in 1999) is priming itself for significant and sustainable economic growth.

Why did the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce join South Island Prosperity Partnership?

By being a member of South Island Prosperity Partnership, we strengthen partnerships with other municipalities inside and beyond the CRD. As Sooke grows and diversifies, it will result in increased sustainability, more diversification and stronger networks and inclusivity. With strong partnerships, Sooke can grow in a manageable and sustainable manner.

What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?

Sooke has a strong and rich history, beginning with the time-immemorial establishment of the T’Sou-ke Nation. Settlement of colonialists notably began with a gold rush in Leechtown and was solidified as Sooke shifted to becoming primarily a logging town. As logging subsided, Sooke became a bedroom community for civil servants in Victoria (just over 70% of our workforce commutes out of town!). Now, Sooke is awakening from its slumber and is poised to become a vibrant economic centre in its own right. 

With one eye on tourism and the other on encouraging our entrepreneurs to “grow up in Sooke,” the potential of a vibrant town filled with parks, trails, shopping and dining, and events embracing the arts, music and theatre is in the not-so-distant future. 

What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household-sustaining jobs, and investment?

South Vancouver Island is uniquely positioned in Canada with a most agreeable climate coupled with terrain diversity that encourages exploration year-round. Sooke, as the gateway to the rainforest and sea, provides access to that diversity. 

Did you know that this little town has over 80 parks and greenspaces covering 287 acres of land, including over 40 kilometres of trails? With a new Economic Development position created at the District of Sooke, strong town collaborations are starting to form, and a vision is taking hold. Buckle up, folks, and get ready to learn about many of Sooke’s hidden treasures over the next few years.

What are you most excited about in terms of your own plans and potential?

The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce works in partnership with many organizations, both inside Sooke and beyond our town’s borders. It is these collaborations that have afforded us significant growth as an organization throughout the Pandemic. The Sooke Chamber has created a newcomers club that has exploded in attendance, we’ve initiated a mastermind group, and we’ve revamped our annual awards event (keep an eye out for the Sooke-cademy this fall!).

To learn more about the economic development potential in Sooke, visit, a new initiative from the District of Sooke.

What’s one thing about the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce you really want people to know that they probably don’t know?

Much of the work that chambers do (any chamber) is invisible. We work together with other chambers and varying levels of government (municipal, regional, provincial, and federal) to ensure the interests of our small and medium-sized business owners are heard and reflected in planning, policies and regulations. 

When you support your local chamber with a membership, you are supporting these advocacy efforts. In addition to that, Chambers host many events. In Sooke, we have the annual business excellence awards, a newcomers’ club open to everyone, mastermind groups, local learning seminars, and networking opportunities. We also pride ourselves on our community connection and often work collaboratively with other Sooke-based enterprises. Consider joining your local chamber! You will personally benefit, and you will help the economic development in your own community.

Also notable is that Chambers typically represent small and medium-sized business owners, from start-ups to established businesses that employ up to 499 employees. Small and medium-sized enterprises (also known as SMEs) make up 98% of businesses in Canada, and account for about 85% of all jobs. Chambers do not represent large businesses (500+ employees). SMEs have unique concerns and interests from large businesses. They often don’t have the same lobbying power, the same international reign, the same financial safety net, and the same degree of influence. That’s why Chambers matter.

What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why?

The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce is working closely with the District of Sooke’s Economic Development manager and the Sooke Region Tourism Association to grow the economic diversity in Sooke. The District has over 1,000 businesses registered with the District, yet we have a town core that extends “from the traffic circle to the traffic light,” embraced by three sprawl malls. We can do better. Sooke has a strong and vibrant arts community. It’s packed with creativity, ingenuity, and people who get things done. 

Working in collaboration with key community groups, the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce plans to contribute to a healthy and measured plan of growth for our community. Those of us who live here already know the magical undercurrent of this town. Now, shine a little light in our general direction, add water, vision, and collaboration, and watch us grow into our magnificence.

What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy?

Over the past several decades, it seems that much corporate and policy energy has been focused on developing the global village. With the onslaught of the Pandemic, seemingly “all of a sudden,” we are at the mercy of the supply chain.

Actually, it has not been that abrupt at all; it’s an issue that has been long in the making.

One way to deal with this is to focus on the resilience of individual communities, from food security to energy supplies. This is where SMEs really matter and can make a significant difference.

And, to support SMEs, we need a population that can make purchasing decisions based in part on what’s best for every community and not solely on what they can afford. The tension of affordability that drives people to shop at the behemoths comes at the cost of our own community’s mom-and-pop shops.

Watching Google (Alphabet) and Facebook (Meta) hold federal policy for information ransom at the cost of Canadian publishers and trusted community news providers is truly concerning.

When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like?

Unknown. With the international mega stores choking out the local mom-and-pops due to a four-decades long build-up of increasingly unaffordable living, with the current international upheaval in Europe, and with democracy on the chopping block in countries like the USA, I think just surviving a fiscal year is an accomplishment.

The South Island has the potential to find a balance between the rugged wilderness and strong economic development. To get there, we need to support our SMEs, we need to preserve the raw beauty that surrounds us, and we need to nurture communities that can sustain small and medium-sized Canadian businesses.

Britt Santowski, Executive Director of the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce