The Portland Regional Chamber on Monday named Chris Hall the new CEO of the chamber.
Hall, who became acting CEO when former head Godfrey Wood resigned in late December, has been the chamber’s senior vice president and government relations liaison since 2007. Prior to his work in Portland, Hall was senior vice president and general counsel at the Maine State Chamber for 17 years.
The chamber said it conducted a national search and reviewed nearly 85 applicants. The selection process included input from both inside the chamber and the business community. Hall’s appointment will lead to a wider effort to forge partnerships with external organizations and a greater focus on lobbying for the Portland region, chamber officials said.
“The mission of the chamber is to grow the prosperity of the region. The CEO of the chamber will plan an important role in working with a number of partners,” said James Cohen, chairman of the Portland Regional Chamber and a partner with the law firm Verrill Dana LLP. Michael Dubyak, chairman, president and chief executive of South Portland-based WEX Inc., said he’s long known Hall and has been impressed by his ability to work with different groups and tackle problems such as improving workforce development and education.
“We first worked together on the executive committee of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and I was immediately impressed by his understanding of the issues facing the state and his ability to break down silos and build partnerships. He is skilled in working with businesses and government to attract business to Maine,” Dubyak said.
Hall said the chamber needs to do more to show value to its members, especially at a time of challenging economic conditions and fast-moving technology.
“In the olden days, people joined the chamber to show their civic duty. Now we have to show real value — that we’re working on the issues of economic development and educational workforce development in the region. We’ve got to be connected to people’s passions,” Hall said.
The Portland Regional Chamber advocates and provides networking opportunities for businesses in and around Portland. It is a partnership of separate community chambers: Portland, South Portland/Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth/Cumberland and Westbrook/Gorham. It also represents PROPEL, the chamber’s young professionals organization.
The chamber is the largest business membership organization in Maine, representing about 1,250 members with more than 64,000 employees.
“Chris is exactly the right personality to lead the chamber. He’ll be a strong advocate for the business community and a strong advocate for building collaborations,” said Portland Mayor Michael Brennan.
Going forward, the chamber will focus more heavily on workforce development and regional economic development planning, Cohen said.
“We cut across multiple sectors and communities. We serve an important role as a convener and catalyst for improvement,” Cohen said.
One of Hall’s first projects will be to lead a strategic planning effort that will be unveiled at the Chamber’s annual meeting in September. The chamber hasn’t had a strategic review in about six years, he said. The review will examine the marketing, communication and events held by the chamber, as well as larger community projects to which the group can contribute.
“We’re going to look for regional legacy accomplishments that we want to grow from and contribute to. There are projects that can define our legacy that can contribute to the region,” Hall said.
Hall expects the chamber to work more with external partners to improve economic development efforts. Last week, the chamber and the city of Portland and other groups launched Portland ConnectED, a project to help Portland students be better prepared for higher education and careers.
Hall said his previous position of government relations liaison will be eliminated, and he will absorb some of his previous lobbying duties.
“We’ll still be involved in advocacy and public affairs, but we’ve shifted our focus in the public affairs arena to focus on the Portland region,” Hall said. “The Maine State Chamber already handles many issues that matter to the state. We will be focusing on issues that matter to the region. We will be better partners, better coordinated and more efficient.”
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