River power fueled the industrial revolution throughout New England, and by the middle of the 19th century the farms were being replaced by mammoth mills that produced Maine-made paper and wood products, ships and snowshoes, and Lewiston-Auburn made textiles and shoes.

While nearly every riverfront town in Maine was dominated by a massive mill, no community produced more goods than L-A. More than 6,000 people worked at the Bates Mill alone, and although there were lots of other mills in L-A, Bates was the largest single employer in the state. Civil War uniforms for the Grand Army of the Potomac came from Lewiston.

But when manufacturing began to abandon New England in search of cheaper labor, many of the towns that had prospered by the dedication of generations of hard-working immigrants began to decay. Now the countryside is littered with the shells of industry.

But although L-A has had to endure some significant challenges in the past 25 years or so, the community has largely escaped the fate of many of the formerly vibrant little cities of the northeast. While the manufacturing jobs are gone, they’ve been replaced by 21st-century opportunities in such fields as technology, healthcare, logistics, business services and education.

Unemployment in L-A was never as bad as elsewhere in the state, region or nation, and many of the jobs lost during the great recession have been recovered. More than 2,000 people are once again working in the Bates Mill, which itself is a microcosm of the dimensions of new growth with all of the important business sectors represented. And there is still manufacturing happening there, after all.

The L-A economy has been protected and nurtured by the intentional attention of an array of unique services and advocacy organizations. For more than three decades, LAEGC has been a unique collaboration of the public and private sectors and it has proven to be the envy of municipalities across the state, many of which have tried unsuccessfully to emulate the model.

The Chamber has grown to be the largest local business membership and advocacy organization in the state. And AVCOG has been an especially productive business development and counseling agency, owned by its member towns and the counties of Androscoggin, Franklin and Somerset.

Those agencies, along with a robust private sector of innovative business services and a sound local infrastructure that has been diligently preserved through the years have provided a kind of safety net for the local economy which might otherwise have experienced the kind of free fall so prevalent throughout New England.

Among the services advanced by the economic development agencies is the opportunity for local businesses to connect with one another; with colleagues, suppliers, customers and clients; even competitors. As the Chamber has proven, there is strength in numbers, and the success of individual businesses and nonprofits in L-A contributes directly to the strength of others.

And so, 19 years ago, LAEGC — with the help and support of the Chamber and AVCOG — introduced the B2B, the largest and most successful one-day event of its kind in the state, and a complete sell-out for at least eight years in a row. More than 2,500 people attend the show, which showcases more than 160 enterprises which together represent the full range of diversity of the local economy.

But in addition to being the best opportunity to make a first impression, or to renew connections that have proven valuable for generations, the B2B is also an opportunity to celebrate all that this community has been through together, for more than 150 years. We made it here, and now we’re making it.

This is where it’s happening, and thousands are about to experience the excitement of doing business in L-A in the most personal way. Let’s all enjoy the party, and on with the show!


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