Barbara Clark hired as new Chamber executive director

THE OPPORTUNE TIME — After three and a half years spent stabilizing the health of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, former Executive Director Jim Mains Jr., left, said Barbara Clark’s hiring as his successor comes at “the opportune time,” because of her extensive experience working with state agencies and organizations such as the Western Maine Lakes and Tourism Council. With them at right is Chamber Board of Directors President Ken Murphy, who said both he and the board are “ecstatic” Clark’s been hired.  (Geraghty Photo)

THE OPPORTUNE TIME — After three and a half years spent stabilizing the health of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, former Executive Director Jim Mains Jr., left, said Barbara Clark’s hiring as his successor comes at “the opportune time,” because of her extensive experience working with state agencies and organizations such as the Western Maine Lakes and Tourism Council. With them at right is Chamber Board of Directors President Ken Murphy, who said both he and the board are “ecstatic” Clark’s been hired.
(Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Not even an hour into her new job as executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, it became clear at a Monday interview that Barbara Clark will be a take-charge kind of leader.

That was certainly her style at the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber, where, as its nine-year executive director, she reached out to serve on the boards of both the Lakes Region Development Council and the Windham Economic Development Corporation — while also serving on many local initiatives, including the milfoil problem in Sebago Lake and state reconstruction of the Naples Causeway.

Until the bottom dropped out of the economy in 2008, she grew membership in the 10-town Sebago Lakes Chamber by 20 percent a year to around 360 businesses, reaching out to both tiny home-based entrepreneurs to giant corporations.

“The bottom line of my passion is, I love business,” said Clark, who moved to Naples with her husband after a 14-year career as a senior manager at AT&T. She believes in the power of forming strategic alliances locally, statewide and nationally as the way for businesses to grow and prosper. She put that belief into action by serving as past president of the Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and receiving four years of management training from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Sitting in the Greater Bridgton Chamber office Monday with former Executive Director Jim Mains Jr. and Board President Ken Murphy, Clark said she looked forward to meeting members of the 13-town chamber at Wednesday’s reception at the Campfire Grille in West Bridgton.

The gathering was also intended as a send-off for Mains, who left a month ago after three and a half years to become General Manager of the Bridgton Highlands Golf Course. “I tell you, I am extremely happy, because my role was to come in and get the chamber back on its feet, and I feel we’re at that point now,” said Mains, who will continue to serve the chamber as a board member. “We have an extremely active board of directors, and Ken as president, so to have Barbara come at this time, it is really the opportune time. I think this is great for the area.”

Murphy was even more effusive. “We’re all excited about it, every single board member. We’re ecstatic.” Murphy said he looks forward to working closely with Clark on bringing businesses that have become successful elsewhere in the state to the Greater Bridgton area. They also plan to work on jobs creation programs, especially ones that provide training local businesses need to hire qualified workers from the local labor pool.

Clark said she applied for the job because, “I want to continue what I’ve loved.” All chambers go through cycles of growth and change, she said, and when she stepped down from the Sebago Lakes Chamber in 2012, it felt like the right move. But she missed the chamber world, and the business consulting work she did afterward didn’t quite fill her needs for hands-on involvement. Some might have considered retirement — not her.

Mains said he could understand — “I think the passion generates the energy.”

“It does,” Clark immediately agreed.

Murphy said, “I think she’s going to do a fantastic job, not because of what she did, but because of what she is going to do.”

Clark said his first concern will be retention of membership, and in efforts to reach out and convince businesses that are not members of the chamber to join. “They need to be involved,” she said. “They need to get engaged. I realize businesses have only so many buckets they can fill, but these days you can’t do it alone. You need to reach out any way you can to move forward, so everyone knows who you are when you show up on the map.”

Clark plans to strengthen the chamber’s ties with the Western Maine Lakes and Tourism Council, which offers many valuable marketing services to businesses. She used to meet monthly with them, and she is very big on the idea of affinity marketing, whereby new customers are gained by offering package deals featuring complementary business services.

Clark is also very big on social media and online marketing; she said she’d like to see the Area Guide be offered on the chamber’s website in a PDF format in its entirety, so viewers can scroll through the pages with a flick of their finger to find what they want.

“I also want to follow the state government, and the national government, and what their plans are and the challenges of bringing businesses to Maine,” Clark said. “We want them to start thinking about the western part of the state as a good place to focus on.” She met last week with a representative from Sen. Susan Collins’ office, and, with Murphy, will be meeting soon with a representative from Sen. Angus King’s office.

Clark believes there is room for all kinds of businesses in a community, and will be bringing her expertise working with Windham’s Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Home Depot in her new role. When Wal-Mart first opened in Windham, the WEDC hired a Texas firm to study its impact on small businesses in Windham.

Only one business left town, a photo store, and its relocation to Scarborough had nothing to do with Wal-Mart’s opening, she said.

“I’ve always believed that there is room for everybody. Competition can be healthy,” she said, and the challenge becomes one of finding ways for businesses to diversify and fill in the gaps of services that a community wants and needs.

“You have to look at it like what do you want to be when you grow up,” Clark said. The big box stores and national corporations aren’t usually very engaged when it comes to local chambers, however, and she emphasized that small businesses will always be the “bread and butter” of a healthy chamber.

A new challenge of chambers, and one she plans to probe, is engagement with the small home-based entrepreneur. “You need to be able to say, what can I do to help the Chamber, and what can the Chamber do to help me? You need to get in there and be hands-on, and get involved.”

She plans to set the example by joining local committees, and looks forward to meeting those in local government as well. Her formula for success is three words, all the same, she said:

“Networking, networking, networking.”

 

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