From the Chamber: A season of giving thanks: Year in review, Part 2
Though 2020 is a year many people would sooner forget, there were some wonderful things that happened this year too. When they look back 10, 20 or 50 years from now, they will find all of the chaotic news headlines, but I hope the most diligent researchers will dig deep and find this column. Because, although 2020 was bizarre, challenging, and aggravating at times, there was greatness too, so let’s highlight that.
With hardly a whisper of what 2020 would become, we were nationally in the midst of primary run-up to see who would run against President Trump in November, our state Legislature was working on several carryover bills from the first session and our chamber was planning on expanding our chamber programming with some much-needed workforce programs. We were also tending to our annual January duties of announcing our new Board members, our Cornerstone Members and our 2019 Award Winners, to be honored in March.
The announcements of those all happened at our January After Hours and Annual Meeting of the Membership which happened at The Holden Frost House at The Highlands in Topsham. The new board members were accepted: 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 (those businesses who sign on to be sponsors of all events and projects the chamber does for the year) were announced, with the renewing members first: Priority Real Estate Group, Mid Coast-Parkview Health, REMAX/Riverside, Bath Savings Institution and Sitelines. Then the first-time Cornerstone Members were announced: Riley Insurance and Barnard Financial. Finally, the annual award winners were announced (though more on that below)
As the first COVID-19 cases were reported in the Pacific Northwest, our communities were deep into our summer project planning and also with our regular first quarter events. For our chamber that meant attending the Maine State Chamber Leadership Summit in Bethel which is a two-day event with business leaders and legislators discussing the biggest issues in the State. It also meant meetings for the Trek Across Maine (the annual cycling fundraiser for American Lung Association), preparing for the Chamber’s Awards Dinner in early March, and meeting with area superintendents about our new workforce programs whose two goals are connecting schools with businesses and overcoming employment barriers.
Three chamber activities jump out for me in February. First, Pat’s Pizza of Brunswick opened early in the year and we had a great Chamber After Hours event there on Feb. 12 (not knowing it would be our final Chamber After Hours of 2020). The Brunswick Hotel had their traditional Ice Bar on Feb. 21 and 22 with a snow globe on their patio which was all kinds of fun to watch people get in and out of.
But the highlight for me was on Feb. 28, when we held a special presentation for one of our award winners. Jim Howard, the hard-working business leader known to support so many local organizations, was to be awarded our Harry C. Crooker Lifetime Achievement Award at our March 6 event, but he would be out of town. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, we hired local videographer Charlie Hudson to film a special presentation with three dozen close friends and family members. I’m so thankful we captured that moment on film as it was such a unique moment. We proudly ran it the following Friday at the Awards night.
Speaking of the SMMC Annual Awards Dinner, it was a fantastic evening at St. John’s Community Center, with unbelievable food from Cook’s Lobster & Ale House and about 150 community leaders in attendance. It was our final, large in-person event of the year, but of course we didn’t know that at the time. Yet, even if we had known it, I don’t think we could have made it more special. The evening was graciously sponsored by BerryDunn, Wilcox Wellness & Fitness, U.S. Cellular and Andrew & Karen Sturgeon.
We honored the following community leaders with the following awards:
Young Professional of the Year: Nick Favreau
Volunteer of the Year: Kevin Clark
Director’s Award: Region 10 Technical High School
President’s Award: Midcoast Community Alliance
Small Business of the Year: One River CPAs
Large Business of the Year: The Highlands
Joshua L. Chamberlain Award: Diane Bowen
Harry C. Crooker Lifetime Achievement Award: Jim Howard (video presentation)
Each award recipient received a copy of the speech delivered that evening, an appreciation pin to recognize someone meaningful in their life, and a hand-carved cutting board created by David Barber of Forwood Thinking. Overall, a beautiful night of celebrating our communities- and ten days later it all changed.
On Sunday, March 15, the Governor announced no St. Patrick’s Day gatherings for the health and safety of all, and shortly there after we were locked down. The words “essential employee” took on a brand-new meaning and garnered more appreciation as many of us thanked those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us going. COVID-19 was real, and it was here.
April had its highs and lows, lots of change, lots of growing pains but lots of support too. The Paycheck Protection Program was the biggest topic of conversation, as well as the CARES Act and unemployment concerns. The chamber role as ‘information provider’ took on new importance as we were sending updates to businesses 3-4 times per week including holding community Zoom forums on specific topics. There were postponements of all activities and the emergence of Zoom and telehealth, two things that would become common to our days. Teachers and schools did a tremendous job of adjusting to remote life, as did bankers with the PPP. And we all waited for the release of a re-opening plan.
We’ll pick it up from there next week in Part III.
Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.