“Better than Twitter,” is one description of the role of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce in the process of connecting job seekers with those searching for qualified employees. The biggest local chamber of commerce in Maine, with nearly 1,400 members representing some 45,000 employees, the Androscoggin Chamber provides a robust schedule of activities, programs and connections, all designed to make it easier to do business.
Even in the era of social media and electronic acquaintances, nothing is more productive than genuine personal connections. Participation in Chamber events provides opportunities to widen the circle of professional relationships in ways which are truly meaningful. Chamber President Chip Morrison, who has led the organization to its dominant position in the state, said at a recent breakfast meeting, “When you volunteer with us, or serve on a committee – working directly with someone is the best way for them to get to know you and know what you can do; and for you to get to know them.”
Try doing that on Facebook. Hundreds of people gather face-to-face at the Chamber’s monthly breakfast meetings; hundreds more at the monthly Business After Hours events, and still hundreds more at the dozens of regular seminars, workshops, committee meetings and other networking activities that are the lifeblood of Chamber membership. And the Chamber’s networking mechanism also enables businesses to identify potential vendors and service providers, identify new customers, and find ways to more fully engage with their own communities.
New this year is an emphasis by the Chamber and many of its members to better support those in the community who are serving in the armed forces, and, especially returning veterans. “As best we can tell,” Morrison said, “there are between 450 and 600 unemployed veterans living in our area. Starting now, the Chamber will provide free individual memberships to any unemployed area vet. We want to do all we can to help smooth their transitions back into civilian life, to the workforce. And we have members who need the kinds of skills many of these people bring home with them. If you know a veteran who is looking for work, have them contact the Chamber.”
Individual members are entitled to the full range of benefits available to all Chamber members, but “connecting our members with one another is one of the things we do best,” Morrison said, and, he added, “Providing free memberships to unemployed veterans is the best way we have to help connect them with job opportunities, to business resources, to the grateful community.”
The February breakfast meeting was devoted to a variety of other local and regional efforts to support the troops. Chamber member, Maine Oxy, an Auburn-based specialist in industrial, welding and safety equipment and gases, is the sponsor of the M.O.S.T. challenge – Maine Oxy Supports the Troops. They assemble care packages to be sent to those on deployment, including food, entertainment, hygiene supplies, sports equipment, personal office supplies, and, most especially, letters of support. They will collect donations from Chamber members or at drop-off boxes in any of their 13 locations throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Jo Anne Campbell, of Mechanics Savings Bank, and husband Tom Campbell, retired USAF now working with Fairpoint Communications, spoke on behalf of the Maine Military Family Assistance Center, a grassroots effort to connect families of those deployed with services and assistance of all sorts that become bigger issues in households with depleted capacity, including everything from yard work and odd repairs or maintenance jobs, help with kids or errands, up to and including crisis comfort. Links to participating in any of these initiatives can be found through the Chamber’s website at www.androscoggincounty.com/public.
Another of the ways in which the Chamber contributes to job growth in the area is by support of a vigorous regional image development effort. “We’ve been saying for years that ‘It’s Happening Here,’ but all of a sudden, it happened! We’re the cool place to be now,” Morrison said.
That image development effort garnered recognition in a recent article in the Boston Globe’s travel article entitled, “A Tank Away: Maine sister cities offer travelers a range of options,” the latest in a growing volume of interest by regional media in the resurgence of culture, economy and quality of life that has been the product of concentrated attention by the Chamber and its collaborative partners – such as the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council – who are dedicated to helping this community achieve its full potential. And ensuring that everyone knows it’s happening.
The newest initiative of the Regional Image Committee is a contest labeled, “Pump Up the Positive,” (PUP), the purpose of which is to collect privately produced videos which can be used to “flood YouTube with positive videos representing Androscoggin County.” The Chamber’s announcement says, “We have a home to be proud of and want the rest of the world to see it through our eyes.”
Videos of all types (stills, silent, interviews, scripted; whatever can be imagined and recorded, subject to a maximum six-minute time restriction) can be uploaded through the PUP portal at the Chamber’s website, or at www.yplaa.com (Young Professionals of the Lewiston Auburn Area, a subsidiary program of the Chamber) anytime now through May. Community voting will take place in June, and winners, to be announced at the Chamber’s July breakfast meeting, are eligible for a cash prize or gift certificates to local businesses. The first-place winner will be premiered for the public at the new Luna Fest, sponsored by L/A Arts this coming October.
The work of the Chamber is undertaken by its board of directors and by six standing committees – Business Advocacy, Regional Image, Workforce Development and Education, YPLAA, Membership Services and Development, and the Ambassador Committee – which together provide countless ways for members to become involved with the Chamber and its work, and especially to connect to other members and resources.
“We are fortunate to have a big board [of directors],” Morrison said. “One of the reasons it’s so big is that it reflects the huge diversity of our membership,” which includes about 115 nonprofit organizations, more than a dozen municipalities and quasi public sector institutions, and traditional businesses in every imaginable field, including manufacturing, healthcare, finance, hospitality, retail, distribution – about 300 distinct categories delineated in the Chamber’s 2012 Resource Guide. And the impact of the Chamber’s work is carefully measured and documented in the annual report, accessible from the website, as well.
“This is just a great place to live, work and play,” Morrison said – any time and to anyone who will stand still for a minute, “and we want to be sure that everyone knows that, and that everyone has a chance to take full advantage of it.”