That the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce has achieved record membership of over 1,400 — virtually having doubled its size in the past decade — attests to the vibrant business constituency represented by the Chamber. At no time is the strength and vitality of Lewiston-Auburn and environs more evident than at the Chamber’s annual meeting, the largest gathering of the year of business, nonprofit, education and civic leadership. With a sell-out crowd of some 500 expected on the evening of February 9, the event celebrates those businesses, organizations and individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and commitment to our community.
The Ray Geiger Award, named in honor of the brother who first brought Geiger Brothers to Lewiston and who became a tireless community advocate, has often been conferred on people who have had close connections to the Chamber and have served the organization in various capacities. It will be presented this year to Steve Closson, the recently retired president and CEO of Androscoggin Bank. In the past two decades, perhaps no single individual has personified those criteria of having made a “significant contribution in support of the Chamber’s mission,” more fully than Closson. He helped Androscoggin Bank become a major engine of growth in our community, has been a stalwart supporter of the arts, education, and especially the Chamber and its efforts to help the region become an even better place to live and work. Closson served seven years on the Chamber board, including a term as chair, was an integral part of the building campaign, and continues to be an active recruiter.
The Business Leadership Award for a larger company will be presented to Agren Appliance. In 1969, the Agren family business included a phone and two repair trucks. Routine weekday calls for appliance repair, emergency responses on weekends and over critical holiday periods helped build Agren’s reputation for reliability with many Maine families. The company has grown to include stores in five towns and has added full lines of furniture and televisions to their basic appliance inventory. The company’s success remains rooted in exemplary service, and each store has become a vital corporate citizen in each town – none moreso than the flagship on Minot Avenue at the southern gateway of Auburn, where the company remains an inspiring example of the best of how family-owned businesses reinforce the fabric of their communities.
Baxter Brewing Co., recently recognized by the beverage industry as “the 2011 best new brewery in the U.S.” is the recipient of the Business Leadership Award for a smaller company. The only brewery in New England to package all its beers in either kegs or aluminum cans, the start-up was compelled to double its production in its first quarter of operation. The tasting room, open for tours Thursdays through Sundays, has attracted visitors from 46 states and 25 foreign countries. Baxter beer is distributed to more than 1,000 retailers, bars and restaurants throughout Maine, and the Boston/North Shore areas of Massachusetts, with expansion to the rest of Massachusetts starting now.
Two Community Service Leadership Awards will be presented this year. The L/A CA$H Coalition is a group of community partners who annually promote the Earned Income Tax Credit, a Federal credit for low-to-moderate-income workers. The EITC is touted as the Federal government’s largest anti-poverty initiative. The Coalition provides FREE preparation and e-filing of federal and state returns by IRS certified volunteers, and provides free tax preparation at the Lewiston Multi-Purpose Center and Auburn City Hall. Since 2004, the Coalition has facilitated the return of over $13 million in tax refunds to the pockets of low-to-moderate-income workers within the Lewiston-Auburn area, a boost to the local economy. The organizers of the L/A Art Walk, led by Mike Dostie, will receive the other award in this category. Between May and September, more than 1,500 people were drawn to tours of art exhibits throughout the downtowns of Lewiston and Auburn on what became the unofficial Friday night out in the Twin Cities, sold more than $6,000 of local art, and captured the attention of art organizations around the entire state of Maine.