LEWISTON — Chip Morrison, the man with the constant smile and enthusiastic outlook, is retiring as president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce.

Morrison, 69, won’t retire until next spring.

In its July newsletter, the chamber outlined a succession plan that would bring a new CEO on board by June 2015.

A former Auburn city manager, Morrison became chamber president 19 years ago. He’s credited with helping increase chamber membership, unifying the community and creating a more positive attitude in Lewiston-Auburn.

When he became president, the chamber’s membership numbered 623. Today, it’s 1,365.

According to the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, its members number about 1,400.

Chamber board member Mary LaFontaine, manager of the Lewiston CareerCenter and an Auburn city councilor, said in the 12 years she’s been involved in the chamber she’s seen incredible efforts to make the chamber among the largest in Maine.

LaFontaine praised Morrison for “his spirit, energy and enthusiasm for our community, for developing programs and partnering with others.”

One example of his commitment to the area was this spring, when the L-A Film Festival was called off after founder Josh Shea was charged for possessing child pornography in March.

Morrison was one of the first ones “who jumped up and said we have to do something,” LaFontaine said. Another, Emerge Film Festival, was created and successfully held in June.

Morrison has worked to connect schools and colleges to the business community, LaFontaine said. He helped create the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center. The YEA helps high school students launch their own businesses.

“He took a bus of teachers on a tour of four businesses so teachers could hear what employers are seeking in employees, to see that manufacturing is alive,” LaFontaine said.

Often the chamber is called “Chip’s Chamber,” LaFontaine said. His retirement “is going to be a huge loss. He leaves very big shoes to fill.”

Chamber board Chairwoman Patti Gagne agreed.

“He does more work than anybody knows,” she said, including attending trade shows, ribbon cuttings, retirement parties and meetings. He’s always smiling and upbeat, Gagne said. His relationship skills “have brought unity to the community.”

Everyone knows him, Gagne said. “Chip brightens up our community with his presence.”

Morrison said Wednesday that achievements in the community are the result of team efforts “that I’m only part of.”

The building the chamber is in is high on that list, he said. After members contributed $600,000, the space underwent a renovation. “We own it. We’re debt free.”

In recent years, the Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area has been created and attracts robust involvement from up-and-coming community members.

“Morrison said he’s enjoyed his work. He isn’t sure what he’ll do next, and may start up a business.

“It’s fun being part of the greater renaissance of the Lewiston-Auburn area,” Morrison said. He said he claims no responsibility for the changes, “but I get to tell how good things have gotten.”

He shared his perspective on the turnaround.

In the late 1970s to early 1980s, “Lewiston-Auburn was a community down on its luck. The economy wasn’t working,” Morrison said. Now, the community has upscale shops, fun festivals, new businesses and trendy restaurants. “We have a robust economy where people come here to do stuff,” he said.

All communities go through cycles, he said. He attributes Lewiston-Auburn’s low point 35 years ago “to when the shoe and textile jobs went offshore.”

That was a dramatic change, he said. In the 1950s, Lewiston’s Bates Mill was the largest employer in Maine, providing 6,000 jobs, Morrison said. “That went to zero.”

Today more than 2,000 people work in different jobs at the Bates complex.

“I happen to be here during the time the community reached a low-water mark,” he said. “Now we’re only midway on the way up.”

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