LEWISTON – TD Banknorth may now have $40 billion in assets and be counted among the biggest banks in the country, but it hasn’t lost its affection – nor plans – for its hometown of Lewiston.

That was the message delivered by David Ott, soon-to-be president of the bank’s Maine division, who addressed a sell-out crowd at the Ramada Inn during the annual meeting of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. His remarks came at the end of the festive affair that applauded the success of the business community amid much back-slapping, glad-handing and the occasional hug.

Ott, as keynote speaker, recalled coming into the city in 1991 – at the height of the recession – when both the bank (then Peoples) and the community were shrouded in gloom.

The bank, with assets of about $2.5 million, was facing a lot of bad loans. And except for a few cheerleaders, the cities of Lewiston and Auburn weren’t crowing much, either.

That’s changed.

“We’ve had tremendous success,” said Ott of TD Banknorth, which now has 600 branches and 10,000 employees. “But that’s been exactly the same as here.”

He ticked off some of the area’s major accomplishments over the past five years: the gateway projects in both cities, major new businesses and expansions, the Colisee, the library renovations and new arts and cultural offerings among them.

“What a transformation,” he said, noting there are now trendy restaurants in the Twin Cities.

The turnaround is good news for the bank which has more than 1,000 employees in the area. It plans more.

Back in 1995, there were only about 300 bank employees locally. But a decision to open an operations center in the first of the renovated buildings at Bates Mill made Lewiston a hub. Since then, the bank has expanded into two other Bates Mill buildings and into office space at the Fairgrounds Business Park.

“We have more than 10 percent (of our employees) headquartered right here,” said Ott. “The reason? Great employees.”

Some of them travel from Kennebunk, Winterport, Waterville and York for good-paying jobs. But TD Banknorth is looking for more homegrown talent.

Ott urged the nearly 300 people at the meeting to make education their No. 1 priority so that more skilled people will be available to fill jobs at TD Banknorth and elsewhere.

“Let’s educate more people and we’ll be happy to take more space in the Bates Mill,” said Ott.

Prior to Ott’s remarks, 13 awards were handed out, marking achievements of individuals and businesses that contribute to making L-A a better community.

Two of the recipients – James Bennett, who accepted the public service leadership award, and Tom Platz, who accepted the prestigious Ray Geiger award – received standing ovations.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.