Bob Thompson, executive director of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, will retire Thursday.

AUBURN — The testing labs used by area manufacturers at Central Maine Community College were small and operating beyond capacity.

The Haas Foundation had awarded the college grants for state-of-the-art equipment, but the room set aside for the precision machining program had no climate control due to the lack of an HVAC system.

The Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments stepped into the void. It knew which federal grant programs could help the college. 

“We built the story that this wasn’t just a traditional education institution,” AVCOG Executive Director Bob Thompson said. “What it was was training and testing labs for local businesses, as well as replacement workers. We knew the program. We knew it was eligible.”

With AVCOG providing technical and grant-writing assistance, CMCC received grants totaling nearly $1.6 million to renovate and expand its popular program.

Construction on the new Gene Haas Precision Machining Technology Center began earlier this year.

With numerous successes — big and small — throughout Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, Thompson is stepping down Thursday after 25 years as executive director.

This was Thompson’s second stint with the organization. He joined AVCOG directly out of graduate school in 1976 from the University 0f Vermont. A chemistry major, Thompson began as a water quality planner before transferring to a land use planner until 1984.

After serving as director for development for both Lisbon (1984-87) and Lewiston (1987-92), he returned to AVCOG to serve as its executive director.

“When I first came back, one of the big issues was having access to capital for small businesses and emerging businesses and to give technical assistance,” Thompson said.

AVCOG built up its loan pools through grants. In addition to consistently lending more than a million dollars, the organization also manages loans on behalf of its smaller clients.

“If we’re working with Lewiston, who has a lot of its own staff, our relationship might be different than if we’re dealing with Kingfield, which has very few staff people,” Thompson said.

Thompson, 67, has relied on a dedicated staff of 17 “experts in their field,” he said. Nearly all of them have worked for AVCOG for at least 15 years, providing the organization with a high level of expertise and an institutional memory invaluable to its clients.

Its wide-ranging membership services include engineering expertise, access to grants and lending, technical assistance, mapping and household hazardous waste and recycling.

This past year, AVCOG saved its 50-plus member communities plus Oxford and Franklin counties more than $340,000 with its bulk purchase of 40,000 tons of road salt. Comparing the price to the state bid prices, Thompson calculated that Auburn, for example, saved more than $37,000 last winter.

AVCOG runs the home hazardous waste collection facility at the Lewiston recycling center. Thompson also said that the coordinator of the Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee’s Citylink bus service is an employee of AVCOG.

Under Thompson’s guidance, AVCOG has helped numerous groups get off the ground. The organization helped the Kingfield Pops get its start 15 years ago. More recently it helped launch the Wilton Children’s Museum, the Maine Sports Commission and the Maine Wood Pellets Association.

Thompson was on the phone to Jay Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere early Wednesday morning, asking what his organization could do to help the town following the announcement that Verso was laying off 120 workers at its Androscoggin Mill.

A resident of Litchfield and owning horses, Thompson finds his group’s work with area farmers rewarding. With a $75,000 grant, the group financed bulk organic grain storage facilities at nearly two dozen farms across the state, including Auburn, Turner, Dixfield, New Sharon and Durham.

After 33 years with the organization, Thompson is looking forward to some quiet time. He wants to spend more time with his four grandchildren — another is on the way — and relax at a family camp he said has seen little use in the past couple of years. He is also considering setting up a wood shop to build furniture, like his father.

Recalling his tenure at AVCOG, Thompson is proud of the group’s many accomplishments, citing the expansion of programs in lending and business technical assistance as one of his top achievements.

“If I looked at it in the last five years, it is understanding that growth and initiative was coming from local agriculture, and how important that was and how important it could be,” he said.

While he has testified before several congressional committees and once sat next to former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, Thompson also holds special the reactions he’s received closer to home.

“Some of the smiles and handshakes from helping a couple of these farmers with a grain bin, that means just as much,” he said.

Bob Thompson, executive director of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, will retire Thursday.

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