From the Chamber: A season of giving thanks: Year in review, Part 2

Although 2020 is a year many people would forget sooner, there were some wonderful things that happened this year as well. If they look back 10, 20, or 50 years from now, they will all find chaotic headlines, but I hope the most diligent researchers will dig deep and find this column. Because while 2020 was bizarre, challenging, and sometimes aggravating, there was size too, so let’s highlight that.

January 2020
With barely a whisper about what would happen in 2020, we were nationally in the middle of the run-up to see who would run against President Trump in November. Our state legislature worked on several broadcasting laws from the first session, and our chamber planned to add some much-needed workforce programs to our chamber programming. We also took care of our annual January duties to announce our new board members, our Cornerstone members, and our 2019 award winners to be honored in March.

All of these were announced at our January After Hours and Annual Membership Meeting held at Holden Frost House in the Topsham highlands. New board members have been inducted: Nancy Weed of Region 10, Randee Reynolds of Mid Coast-Parkview Health, Shannon Anketell of Bath Savings Institution, Angela Lallier of Atlantic Federal Credit Union, and Earle Harvey of JMH Associates.

The 2020 Cornerstone members (the companies that will sign up to sponsor all of the events and projects the Chamber runs for the year) have been announced. The renewing members were first: Priority Real Estate Group, Mid Coast-Parkview Health, REMAX / Riverside, Bath Sparkasse and Sitelines. Then the first Cornerstone members were announced: Riley Insurance and Barnard Financial. Finally, the annual winners were announced (more on this below)

February 2020
When the first COVID-19 cases were reported in the Pacific Northwest, our communities were deeply involved in our summer project planning and also in our regular events in the first quarter. For our chamber, this meant attending the Maine State Chamber Leadership Summit at Bethel, a two-day event where business leaders and lawmakers discussed the state’s biggest problems. It also included meeting for Trek Across Maine (the American Lung Association’s annual cyclist fundraiser), preparing for the Chamber’s Awards dinner in early March, and meeting with regional superintendents about our new workforce programs, the two goals of which are schools with businesses connect and overcome barriers to employment.

Three chamber activities jump out for me in February. First, Pat’s Pizza of Brunswick opened earlier this year and we had a great Chamber After Hours event there on February 12th (not knowing it would be our last Chamber After Hours of 2020). The Brunswick Hotel had its traditional ice bar on February 21st and 22nd with a snow globe on the terrace which was great fun for people to watch as they get in and out.

The highlight for me, however, was February 28th, when we held a special presentation for one of our award winners. Jim Howard, the hardworking business leader known to support so many local organizations, was due to receive our Harry C. Crooker Lifetime Achievement Award at our March 6th event, but he would be out of town. In order not to miss this opportunity, we hired local videographer Charlie Hudson to shoot a special presentation with three dozen close friends and family members. I am so grateful that we captured this moment in the film because it was such a unique moment. We are proud to have done it at the awards ceremony the following Friday.

March 2020
Speaking of the SMMC Annual Awards Dinner, it was a fantastic evening at St. John’s Community Center with incredible food from Cook’s Lobster & Ale House and around 150 community leaders. It was our last big personal event of the year, but of course we didn’t know that back then. But even if we had known, I don’t think we could have made it any more special. The evening was kindly sponsored by BerryDunn, Wilcox Wellness & Fitness, US Cellular and Andrew & Karen Sturgeon.

We have awarded the following community leaders the following prizes:
Young professional of the year: Nick Favreau
Volunteer of the Year: Kevin Clark
Director’s Award: Region 10 Technical High School
Presidential Prize: Midcoast Community Alliance
Small Business Of The Year: One River CPAs
Large company of the year: The highlands
Joshua L. Chamberlain Award: Diane Bowen
Harry C. Crooker Lifetime Achievement Award: Jim Howard (video presentation)

Each award winner received a copy of the speech given that evening, an appreciation pin to identify someone who is significant in their life, and a hand-carved cutting board created by David Barber of Forwood Thinking. All in all, a lovely night celebrating our churches – and ten days later everything changed.

On Sunday, March 15th, the governor did not announce gatherings for St. Patrick’s Day to keep everyone safe and health and shortly after we were incarcerated. The words “essential contributor” took on a brand new meaning and gained more recognition as many of us thanked those who had put themselves at risk to keep us going. COVID-19 was real and it was here.

April 2020
April had its ups and downs, a lot of changes, a lot of increasing pains, but also a lot of support. The paycheck protection program was the biggest topic of conversation, as was the CARES law and unemployment concerns. The Chamber’s role as an “information provider” gained in importance as we sent updates to companies 3-4 times a week, including running community zoom forums on specific topics. There have been shifts in all activities and the advent of zoom and telemedicine, two things that would become commonplace these days. Teachers and schools have gotten used to life far away, as have bankers with the PPP. And we’ve all been waiting for a reopening plan to be released.

We’ll pick it up from there next week in Part III.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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Obituary: James M. Blenkhorn Jr.

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