FREEPORT — Since it was founded 10 years ago, the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce has doubled in size to reach 200 members, increased local outreach, and improved the way the member businesses connect with the community.

Executive Director Shawna Chigro-Rogers said the Chamber works with the Freeport Economic Development Corporation in support of economic growth and is participating in a strategic vision led by the FEDC and the town of Freeport to help drive shoppers to the community.

There are four goals: enhancing the experience for people who visit Main Street, reducing barriers to investment and development, coordinating marketing efforts, and diversifying the economy.

“The Chamber serves as a resource to businesses considering Freeport as a business location and receives many calls annually by prospective businesses seeking information on available vacant spaces and commercial contacts,” Chigro-Rogers said.

One of the newer members of the Chamber is Kennebec Savings Bank, which opened at 181 Lower Main St. in July 2017. The bank is the lead sponsor of the golf ball drop fundraiser, which raises money for the Chamber’s Budding Entrepreneur Scholarship awarded yearly to a local student.

“I think this event, in particular, highlights the vibrancy that the Chamber brings to the community,” said Travis Rowell, the Freeport branch manager.

While it can’t be denied that online retailers, especially Amazon, have had an impact on businesses in Freeport – and everywhere else – Chigro-Rogers said business owners in the community are creative and social media-savvy.

There are three organizations that support the local business community: Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce, Freeport Economic Development Corporation and Visit Freeport, formerly the Freeport Merchant’s Association. Chigro-Rogers said the organizations work together to provide a strong and unique support system for national and locally owned businesses.

When the Chamber began to organize in 2009, the Freeport Merchant’s Association represented businesses focused on marketing to tourists, which were mostly national brands. But about 90% of the businesses in town were small and locally owned shops that remained more focused on serving local and regional residents, Chigro-Rogers said.

“They saw the Chamber as a channel to help and support each other primarily through networking and building relationships,” Chigro-Rogers said. At the end of 2009, there were about 100 members, and when it incorporated in January 2010 there were about 120 member businesses.

The Chamber, Chigro-Rogers said, works hard to connect members, and she said she’s proud to see the connections come to fruition with collaborating on special events, cross-promoting social media posts and creating mini pop-up shops with local vendors.

“Business owners are creating experiences for their customers and guests, which, I believe, is the new trend,” she said.

Ed Bonney, who was a founder of the Chamber and its first president, said he is proud of what has been accomplished in the organization’s first 10 years.

“Membership has grown substantially and continues to grow, and the programs and events sponsored by the Chamber have been of great help to its members,” Bonney said.

Shondra Robbins owns a skincare business in downtown Freeport — Shondra Jin Skincare — and said the Chamber welcomed her with open arms and helped organize a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Since then, the Chamber has been a great support, both from helping in the community to even helping clients find me,” Robbins said. “I look forward to the next 10 years.”

Among the Chamber’s goals are to better connect businesses outside of the village to residents and vendors; create more opportunities for collaboration and provide pertinent information to businesses, such as new laws and regulations; and relate what’s trending in specific industries, along with how economies are performing locally, statewide, regionally and nationally.

“One of the unique aspects of Chamber membership is that members tend to support one another in business and in their personal lives,” Chigro-Rogers said. “They tend to do business with other members and when members need assistance, other members help.”

When the winter storm in 2018 knocked out power for nearly a week, many residents not only lost food in their refrigerators, but they also lost their Thanksgiving meals. The Chamber supported Freeport Community Services with a turkey drive, and businesses and residents donated above the organization’s goals so many residents were able to have a regular Thanksgiving.

The Chamber does several things to support its members and businesses in the greater Freeport community, Chigro-Rogers said. There is a monthly networking event called Chamber Business After Hours, a women’s group that offers networking and professional development, a lunch and learn series called Chew on This and a pre-work outing called Coffee and Conversation.

The celebrate the milestone, the organization was scheduled to hold a gala on Jan. 9, entitled Shine Bright Like a Diamond, where Chamber Choice Awards were announced in several categories.

“These are all opportunities to connect, share information and tell stories,” Chigro-Rogers said. “The Chamber also provides a stable and forward-looking economic climate that attracts new and expanding businesses.”

Comments are not available on this story.