LEWISTON — In an age of superstores and online sales, as other businesses succumb to competition, Agren Appliance is as robust as ever.

It has four locations, but their roots are here in Lewiston-Auburn, and don’t think the local business community will let them forget it.

Agren was one of several businesses recognized Wednesday night by the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council as it hosted its 33rd annual business forum.

“In the era of the big-box store,” Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said, “Agren is thriving and growing.”

Across the bridge in Lewiston is the No. 1 job creator in all of Maine. Argo Marketing, with its headquarters on Lisbon Street, was recognized as being one of the fastest-growing companies in the area.

“Argo has put us on the map,” Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald said.

As they do every year, hundreds of Twin Cities movers and shakers gathered at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston to take care of the formal stuff and indulge in a little of the informal. Awards were handed out and sponsors were thanked, but the gathering also featured its share of networking, schmoozing and prognosticating.

The business climate here has never been better, they generally agreed. Plans were put forth to make it better still.

Greg Dufour, president of Camden National Bank, has a unique perspective on the matter. Decades ago, he lived in an apartment on Lisbon Street, in a time when Lisbon Street wasn’t known for restaurants, art galleries and office space.

“When you look back at what Lewiston was and what it is today,” Dufour marveled, “you have to ask, how did that happen?”

Partnerships, that’s how. Businesses working with local colleges, two cities acting as one, committees and individuals acting with the sole goal of improving the local business zeitgeist.

And the businesses themselves, of course.

Central Maine Community College in Auburn was recognized with an achievement award for its ability to adapt and grow. Downeast Food was praised for continuing to put the customer first even as the business expands.

“When somebody calls Downeast Food,” LaBonte said, “there’s a person on the other end of the line.”

Norway Savings Bank was awarded for continuing commitment to the community, as was Maine Community Health Options, which continues to expand further into the Bates Mill Enterprise Complex in Lewiston.

Lewiston’s Jamey Pittman received an award for taking on the McGillicuddy Block at Ash and Lisbon streets, transforming once-gloomy office space into eight apartments that Mayor Macdonald was moved to describe as “stunning.”

The night was one success story after another, wrapping up with what is proving to be a very large success, indeed. Keynote speaker Bob Houvener, of Physical Apps, described to the audience how his business moved to Lewiston at a time when all signs pointed to it going overseas.

Developer of TheO SmartBall and other educational toys, Houvener and his team had been looking for someone to manufacture his products. China seemed a likely destination, but then he heard about Jones & Vining in Lewiston, hours from Houvener’s Connecticut home.

“We looked all over the world,” Houvener said. “Literally.”

Physical Apps established a relationship with Jones & Vining, but also with several other area businesses that help to produce and distribute the product. Keeping it local, he said, vastly reduces the time and cost of getting his goods into the hands of customers. It allows him to tour the involved facilities in just a few hours instead of in days or weeks.

“This is almost unheard of in the toy industry,” Houvener said, “and we’re making it happen.”

[email protected]

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.