We’ve had a few weeks to settle into our “regular” schedule with summer behind us, and as we do, we look to what the future holds. For our chamber of commerce, the future continues to be a mishmash of many different things. It’s truly the nature of our organization to focus on many different things at once, and that’s because our ethos demands it.

Our chamber philosophy is “if it affects one of our members, then it affects us.” With such a variety of member businesses there are very few things that this philosophy doesn’t capture, so what do we do? The answer is, we do as much as we can as often as we can — and in the best way possible.

Prioritization is a major part of my job as executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber. Concurrently, our organization is: launching a New Mainer discussion with some partners, planning a COVID-safe networking event for next week, launching a seasonal event, recruiting colleagues for new programming that will change the focus of the organization for the next decade and trying to stop the spread of misinformation as we consider specific policy pieces. And it’s only Wednesday.

This week, I want to give you a little peek behind the curtain and hit on several of these topics to give you an idea of what we’re working on, and what we see coming over the next few months. This list is not complete, by any means, as we’re working on at least as many projects not mentioned here, as the ones that are mentioned. In fact, if I wrote this column five times, you would assuredly see different projects mentioned in each. It’s just a matter of what is most top-of-mind when I write it.

Creating employment opportunities for New Mainers discussion
This event is happening today (Sept. 22) outdoors at Flight Deck Brewing at 10 a.m. and is a discussion with business leaders about hiring foreign-trained talent living in Brunswick. This event is designed in partnership with the town of Brunswick’s Economic and Community Development office to begin a discussion with our businesses on the opportunities about hiring this foreign-trained talent and what that entails. This discussion will be more practical than theoretical, discussing specific things like language barriers, terminology to use, signage, cultural differences and more.

I intentionally didn’t promote this event in the previous columns because this event is for hiring managers and business leaders to discuss their specific needs, and though our citizens may value this information too, we did need to limit seating to just those who are actively hiring. I hope to recap this discussion in future columns though, to give you a sense of what is discussed.

Event planning in the Age of COVID
The fact that I have to use the phrase “Age of COVID” as opposed to “Summer of COVID” or “Year of COVID” is more than disheartening. More disappointing still is just this morning I literally had someone on social media reply to me and say they would rather “get a direct shot of COVID then (sic) a shot of the vaccine,” so my guess is that we’ll be in the Age of COVID for a while longer still.

I’ve mentioned before how detrimental COVID is to the business community. It is the cloud hanging over everything from hiring to gathering limits, to short-staffing, to consumer engagement, to remote work and more. If we could get to herd immunity — or community immunity as the CDC calls it — we could go back to life as normal, but judging by the partisan nature of this fight, we will likely see a new more aggressive variant before we see 70% of people agree to take action together, which is sad.

That being said, many people want life to go on, and so event planners are doing their best to try and create COVID-safe events this Fall. At the chamber, we have an outdoor Chamber After Hours happening at Flight Deck Brewing, Wednesday, Sept. 29, from 5-7 p.m. These networking events are tremendously effective, but we haven’t held one since before COVID began. We’re hoping to book another outdoors After Hours for October, and if we do, we will share that news soon.

Additionally, the Midcoast Tree Festival planning committee is meeting this week to finalize the format of this year’s event. For those that don’t remember, we held an in-person event in 2019, and an online event in 2020. We hope to be making a big Midcoast Tree Festival announcement during the Chamber After Hours on the 29th.

Three more priorities we’re focused on
Workforce programming: Hiring is the major issue right not for businesses and it will be for the next 5-10 years because of the demographic shift of baby boomers retiring. Our chamber is in the first phase of deciding which workforce programs to launch later this year. That’s about all I can share right now, but trust me when I say this will be a focus of ours for years and we are just taking the first steps.

Question 1 misinformation and facts: Yikes. We’re six weeks away from voting on the Question 1 referendum and there is a ton of talking points to sift through. One side says that Maine will only get pennies when the governor says it will be $170 million in rate relief alone beyond other millions invested in Maine. One side says it will create jobs, but there is a dispute on how many. Some say the land for the corridor is pristine, while others say it is clear-cutting working land. Who’s right? We hope to sort some of that out for you.

Chamber re-branding: Our marketing team is meeting this week to continue to review the brand survey feedback as our team works to change the logo and name of the chamber. Our hope is to find a brand that better represents this region.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber. 

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