LEWISTON — Matt Leonard used his 40-hour, San Diego-to-Maine road trip to think.

About woman-, veteran- and immigrant-owned business initiatives. About developing a new logo for the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce.

About doing something about that toll in New Gloucester.

On Sunday, he pulled into town and immediately headed to chamber President Chip Morrison’s for dinner and 20 years of history.

On Monday, he was at the office for his first full day in Lewiston-Auburn and first full day as the new chamber president.

“Lewiston-Auburn as a whole is kind of on the rise,” said Leonard, 39, a Portland native. “I think it’s on a trajectory where it really truly can be the heart of Maine, not just in its location but in its development. It’s kind of getting a makeover with the investment in the mills, restaurants, arts. It’s got a good balance of a place where you want to live and a place where you want to work and a place where you come to do fun things.”

Leonard retired from the Navy on Wednesday, ending a 21-year and 12-day career. He beat out a field of more than 50 candidates to replace Morrison, who has headed the chamber for almost two decades.

Morrison will stay on until June 3 to ease the transition, but on Monday, Leonard was already settling into his new office space. He had a working spreadsheet of all 1,400 chamber members. He still hopes to meet each one this year. He’ll get a jump this week with an evening event of the Young Professionals of the Lewiston Auburn Area and monthly chamber breakfast Thursday.

Among the history and advice Morrison has already imparted: “The people that you’ll meet, you’ll meet again, again and again,” Leonard said. “I’ve seen that just from day one.”

Among his early ideas as he takes the helm: 

* Exploring why the area doesn’t have more women-owned businesses and seeing what can be done about that.
 
Maine is below the national average in the rate of women-headed businesses and Androscoggin County is below the rate for Maine, according to Leonard.
 
Similarly, he said, he wants to see what can be done to encourage veterans’ business ownership and improve workforce development and entrepreneurship in the immigrant population.
 
“They came here for a reason; a lot of them want to live the American dream,” Leonard said. “Diversity is a strength and Lewiston-Auburn has some diversity and we need to look at how are we going to improve that for maximum benefit to the community.”

* Coordinating more with the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, which also has a new president in John Holden.

Leonard said he and Holden have talked a lot already.

“As we carve out strategic plans, where are his efforts, where will our efforts be so we don’t burn out the community from both asking for the same thing?” Leonard said.

* “Refreshening” the chamber brand, which could mean a new logo, an updated website, which he may have a hand in, and a new look to its online presence.

Leonard has a master’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, two associate degrees and he’s working on a third associate in Web development and design.

“I consider myself a professional nerd,” he said.

* Getting involved in what he’s dubbed “planes, trains and automobiles” — growing the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, bringing passenger rail to the area and addressing toll equity on Interstate 95.

“I’m paying $2.25 why? It’s unfair when you talk about business development,” Leonard said. “We can provide some leadership in the development of policy (for all three topics). Bring all of the options together and have conversations. Conversations are important, it doesn’t matter which side you’re on.”

Leonard planned to start house shopping in the area on Monday night. His wife, Rebekah, an opera singer, will join him at the end of the month in her first time coming to Maine.

He joined the Navy while still a senior at Portland High School and left for boot camp in July 1994. His last assignment was overseeing 100 sailors at Camp Pendleton.

“The term I’ve been using is, I’m not from away, I’ve been away, serving my country,” Leonard said. “Yeah, I was born and raised in Portland, but I’m all-in in L-A. I see where it’s going and I want to be part of its future.”

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