March 5, 2013

Our View: New chamber CEO right for a changing economy

The old strategies won't offer an effective response to an evolving business environment.

The interim CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber made an interesting observation last week when he was explaining why the chamber would be a partner with the city in a new education effort called Portland ConnectED.

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Chris Hall is new CEO of the Portland Region Chamber of Commerce.

The economy was bouncing back from the recession of 2008 and 2009, said Chris Hall, but it had "changed shape," leaving the state with simultaneous unemployment and unfilled job openings in high-paying industries.

That meant business leaders couldn't just wait for the economy to turn around, Hall said, which was why the chamber would wade in and work with the city to promote everything from early childhood education to an endowment for college scholarships.

On Monday, Hall went from being interim CEO to the organization's permanent head.

Greater Portland's economy is changing rapidly, and its leading business organization has an opportunity to help steer it.

And like the education partnership, it will mean involving business leaders in the greater community in new ways. As Hall testified in Augusta last month, there is a private-sector role in work force development, and it's not just a job for school districts and colleges. It is one of many areas in which the business community can get its hands dirty.

As representatives of Maine's most important regional business community, Hall and the chamber have an opportunity to get involved in ways that they haven't always in the past. The chamber should be more than a place where businesspeople speak to each other -- it can also be a forum for business leaders to get involved.

That might mean lobbying in Augusta, but it also means defending the region when it's attacked as unfriendly to business.

It means telling Greater Portland's story beyond the state's borders, describing it as a place where small businesses are finding fertile ground to get their start and one that larger businesses looking for a new home should consider.

With 23 years' combined experience in the state and regional chambers of commerce, Hall understands the changes as well as anyone in Maine. Now he and the members of the Greater Portland chamber have a chance to build on them.


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