BRUNSWICK

Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber Executive Steven Wallace will receive the Chamber Executive of the Year award Friday night fromthe Maine State Chamber of Commerce, signifying achoevement among more than 60 Chambers of Commerce in the state.

But Wallace also has achieved in a different, more intense set of battles: as a veteran.

From 1984 to 2005, he served as a Marine Corps helicopter chief who went on seven major deployments — three of them in combat — in 18 countries.

He remembers Desert Storm, when he was a helicopter gunner who “crashed the first day,” he recalls stoically, “broke my back, crushed my neck and injured my skull. Got to Topsham, Maine in ’92.”

While Veterans Day is a day of comaraderie for Wallace, he lost 29 comrades, “so Memorial Day is a day of remembering.”

The bright side is that “the military afforded me the opportunity for an education,” he says.

Wallace has “stepped up and contributed significantly to the growth of the regional Chamber, but also to the vibrancy and activity within the region,” Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors said, noting Wallace also completed a yearlong term as president of the Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

“Steve exemplifies both the energy and spirit you find in Chambers that are poised to lead and to serve members to the utmost level,” Connors said. “But he shows the same commitment with other Chambers in the state, as well as working with the (state Department of Labor) and (state Department of Economic and Comminity Development) on training and skillbuilding for the new economy.”

Wallace said he feels lucky “to be the coach of an awesome team.” With 140 volunteers and 30 board members, he sees that “no one can do it alone.”

Wallace likens the synergy of the chamber and its constituents to the Rudyard Kipling quote, “The strength of the pack is the wolf; and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

The helicopter pilot and chief in Wallace has propelled him to give wings to the communities that include and surround Brunswick. Once aloft, he hopes to bring them to the next level of collaborative prosperity.

One of seven siblings, Wallace was the first in the family to earn a college degree.

“My father told me ‘never give up on an opportunity to learn’,” Wallace said. He holds a B.S. in management from Mt. Olive College and currently attends MBA classes at Southern New Hampshire Univrsity in Brunswick.

A standout high school athlete, Wallace brings to the community his team mentality from football, wrestling and baseball to punctuate his work efforts today. He resides in Auburn with his wife, Richelle and their cat, Callie.

Representing 761 members throughout 16 municipalities as head of the Chamber, “it’s complex,” Wallace says.

“We’re privileged to have members from over 100 unique business categories within all sectors: public private, nonprofit and NGOs. What’s more, we have members from Bath Iron Works to home-based businesses, representing 62 towns. Therefore we’re not just concentrated in tourism, for instance, but in (all) vocations and focuses. There’s no single motif.

“We have Brunswick as a service center, Topsham for retail; Harpswell with its islands fishing economy; Bath, the “city of ships”; unique Wiscasset, which has its own Chamber that is a member of the SMMC; there’s artisan ocean communities Georgetown and Phippsburg, then the Durham-Bowdoin-Bowdoinham Richmond areas. . .”

With a slight sense of awe, he adds that, “anywhere else, this would be four Chambers.”

Wallace notes $180 million in payroll has left the region since the base closure, and the economic crisis of 2008 struck as a double-whammy.

“It’s not really measurable, how many people here who contracted out work, etc., are gone,” he said.

To the benefit busineses through his work at any Chamber is a challenge.

“Unfortunately, too many people think that collaboration means ‘what can you do for me?’

Also, he said, no one else is looking at how legislation affects business with as much attention. Having a multiregional board of directors helps support Wallace in his efforts to provide legislative support and representation to business owners.

Wallace laments that many organizations exist with overlapping missions and duplicated services. “Sure, there’s overlap,” said, “but there would be more strength in collaboration.”

Wallace is excited about the role the Chamber can play as a “backbone organization” for such a diverse contingency.

“Maine needs ladder jobs that allow steps to growth. Maine needs to put aside partisan differences and get an economic ladder set up for the right jobs.

“I have confidence because Mainers have such a ‘can-do’ attitude , they’re going to win no matter what.”

What’s over the next hill?

“To move forward as a more regional entity.”

PAT FRIEDMAN is a Times Record correspondent who lives in Brunswick.



Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: