Chamber charts course

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 8:45am

The Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce has bold plans for new and expanded programs. The Board of Directors and Advisory Council gathered in September for a retreat. Robin Zinchuk, longtime director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, facilitated it.

The retreat yielded five top priorities including creating new jobs/industries; being a catalyst for growth/information for nonprofits, industries, businesses, education and the arts; housing (affordable for workers); education (rebuilding schools); and growing the year-round population.

Since September, the Chamber’s board and staff have been planning how to better direct their efforts towards these goals.

The board's newly elected president, Sweet Bay owner Ken Rayle is keenly focused on the role the Chamber can play in improving visitors' experience. He said he’s more hopeful than ever that, with the continued growth of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and the reinvestment of inn owners, the region is winning the long game of repeat visits and heritage tourists. That focus also informs the value he sees for Chamber members. "The Internet will never fully replace human interaction ... the Chamber can be a catalyst for bringing people together on common ground to solve local challenges.”

Perhaps the most innovative program on the horizon is bGEN. Chamber Board Member Roger Ferrell described it as a business incubator that helps new and startup companies develop by providing them with services, training and office space. The second story of the Chamber will be renovated to provide desks, printers, laptops, conference space and a photo/video production booth. Ferrell, the pastor of Anchor Church, developed a similar program in rural South Carolina that has launched 12 successful businesses. “I have a lot of work to do to set bGEN up to make it a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, to make it easier to start a business in the Boothbay region and succeed, especially for those who are from away and don’t know the community or Maine well," Ferrell said.

Chamber Executive Director Patricia Royall said all the priorities point to one thing: The Chamber should always be promoting business. "While tourism makes up the majority of our membership, we need to do a better job of marketing the services and trades industries.”

Royall and Rayle agree the Chamber doesn’t have the resources to run programs in perpetuity. Instead they see an opportunity to harbor innovation, bring people together and then hand developed programs to other organizations best suited to implement them far into the future.