Amid the chaos of renovations for its new headquarters, the Olds Institute made time for its annual general meeting, held May 15 at the Cow Palace, and for the first time made all attendees official voting members of the organization.
Current executive director Mitch Thomson recapped the year for the newly appointed membership, noting that in 2016 almost 180 volunteers contributed to more than 30 initiatives, which range from physician retention and tourism strategies to operating tech and power businesses, and everything in between.
Thomson said the board has spent significant time over the past few years talking about the governance of the amorphous organization.
ì(They’ve been) talking about the complexity-shock reactions of trying to manage an organization with many facets, many volunteers and lots of personalities,î said Thomson.
Indeed, several speakers at the AGM addressed the topic of identity. Current chair of the board, Cody Becker, said that the OI has always had trouble explaining who they are and what they do.
ìIt is an ongoing struggle, just because we do so many things,î said Becker afterward. ìI don’t know that people understand that, number 1, we answer to the community, we are owned by the community, we are the community.î
While the OI operates several committees that include business retention, community lifestyle, fair trade, and sustainability, its most notable initiatives are Mountain View Power and Olds Fibre Ltd. ñ also known as O-NET ñ both of which provide independent revenue streams.
Mountain View Power was founded in 2010 by the OI as a community sustainability initiative, selling electricity, natural gas and green-generated power to clients in the county. Thomson noted that last year, the company increased from 952 to 1,054 connections and brought in more than $155,000 in profit.
O-NET, the service provider for the community-owned gigabit broadband network known as the Olds Connected Community Network, now has more than 2,000 connections, and became cash-flow positive for the first time this year.
Becker noted that in the coming months he will be stepping down as chair, saying his business was taking him out of town too often. He was, however, acclaimed as a board member ñ along with Mary Turner and Greg MacIntyre ñ and will serve another three-year term in that capacity.
Becker will be passing the torch to Bill Hall for the remaining year of his term as chair. Hall is a manager at Westview Co-op, and has been involved with the institute for 12 years.
He says he wants to see further separation between OI and the town, both in terms of funding ñ the OI receives a $150,000 grant from the town each year that comprises about 50 per cent of their budget ñ but also with public perception of who they are and what they do.
ìThat has been our goal for a long time, our own self-sustainability,î said Hall. ìThe more our businesses progress and have a higher cash flow, you’re going to see less and less dependence on the town for financials.î
Hall said that many people believe the OI is operated by the municipality, in part because of their former location at town offices. In addition, the term ëinstitute’ has led to confusion, he says.
ìPeople think that it’s a college, and for sage and learned people, but it’s not,î said Hall. ìWe’re there to enhance the quality of life for everybody in Olds.î
Hall said he thinks that the new, more visible office space in Uptowne Olds, separate from the town offices, will play a key role in helping the public better understand the role of the institute.
ìOI is the community as a whole, and I think that overall we are going to see some real growth,î said Hall.
“People think that it’s a college, and for sage and learned people, but it’s not. We’re there to enhance the quality of life for everybody in Olds.”BILL HALLNEW CHAIR OLDS INSTITUTE