Mains leaving Chamber to manage golf course

Jim Mains Jr. is leaving as executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lake Region Chamber of Commerce to become general manager of the Bridgton Highlands Country Club. (Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Jim Mains Jr. is a glass-half-full kind of guy. His job for the past three years as executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lake Region Chamber of Commerce was one he thoroughly enjoyed.

But now he is moving on.

On March 22, Mains will leave to become the General Manager of the Bridgton Highlands Country Club.

“My love and devotion to our area, along with the many friendships that I have developed, made this decision very difficult for me,” Mains wrote in his announcement in this week’s Chamber newsletter. And though his regret is deep, Mains is confident that the good progress made during his tenure will continue, thanks to the strong leadership from its board of directors.

“Am I sad? Oh, by all means,” Mains said in a Monday interview. After working in manufacturing all his life, it was both exciting and interesting to enter the public arena to promote business in the 13-town region, he said. What’s impressed him the most was seeing how much “dedication and hard work that these small business owners put in” to Chamber work, despite the huge demands of keeping their own businesses running. He wants to still stay involved in chamber affairs, and has asked to stay on as a board member.

His decision to resign was driven by the opportunity to take on yet another new challenge — which he noted does not always come around when you’ve reached age 60.

“It won’t be any less stressful,” said Mains, to manage an 18-hole professional golf course with around 25 employees. Changing jobs, he said with his characteristic honesty, “It’s more of an age thing, and the fact that I plan to work another five to seven years. I decided that if I had the opportunity, I’d like to do it.”

Mains was one of the original stockholders among a group of 23 community leaders, led by Bruce Chalmers, who bought the then financially ailing country club in 1992. The group, which now numbers 33 local owners, pooled their money to buy the golf course and run it as a community asset, expanding to 18 holes and making major quality improvements. Jim Cossey, president of the board of directors of the Bridgton Highlands Country Club, said the club is “thrilled” to have him come on as general manager.

"Jim Mains has spent his life in Bridgton, is an outstanding athlete and long-time golfer who has a background in business and management,” Cossey said. “He is well-known to the residents and businesses of Bridgton and the greater Lakes Region, and he has the skill set to continue the improvements made at Bridgton Highlands in recent years.”

The Chamber’s board has begun planning for his departure and will name a search committee to recruit for a new director. “It’s very important that we have a smooth transition, and that I leave the Chamber in as good or better hands than it is right now,” said Mains. “We want no interruption in service to members, that’s the key. We have a great staff that will pick up the slack in the transition, and play a bigger role.”

Good progress has been made

Mains was well-known and well-regarded in the region as the former owner/operator of his father and grandfather’s Bridgton woodworking business, the J.R. Mains Company, when he was hired by the chamber in November of 2009 following some rocky years, both financially and otherwise. After his family business closed in 1992, Mains worked as manager of the Saunders Brothers wood mill in Fryeburg until it, too, closed in 2008.

Mains brought stability and a renewed sense of mission to the Chamber, and set about working on three goals: build the membership, bring all 13 towns together to feel part of the Chamber, and work with existing organizations and events.

Good progress has been made in all three areas, he said, but much more needs to be done. Membership, at 275 businesses, has remained around even, which isn’t bad considering the weak economy, he said. “It’s a constant effort” to recruit new members, said Mains, noting the 8–10% attrition rate all chambers face annually. Knowing this, recruitment is still a prime focus, and the Chamber has put in place a system for welcoming in new members — as well as an emphasis on providing maximum value and service to existing members, by offering free trainings and other services to help businesses maintain their bottom line.

Bringing all 13 towns into the fold has also had its challenges, he said. As part of the statewide eight-Chamber region, the Greater Bridgton Lake Region Chamber of Commerce is in the Western Maine Lakes and Mountains Region. “We are so fortunate in our area. We have so many natural assets, between the lakes, the mountains, the golf courses, the hiking. And when you’re trying to draw people to an area, you have to promote the region as a whole.”

Under Mains’ leadership, the chamber has joined in collaboration with other business attraction organizations, such as the Fryeburg Business Association and the Naples Chamber of Commerce to pool resources. “It’s not an easy task. I’m not going to say we’re there yet. But it will benefit all of us” to work together, he said.

As for reaching out to some of the Chamber’s smaller towns, Mains and the board have made a real effort to ensure that the board is representative of both Bridgton and outlying towns. “We get pressure on both ends from that,” he said, with some wanting more emphasis on Bridgton, some insisting on a more regional focus.

Mains spent a good deal of his time organizing events, which provide over half of the funds for the Chamber’s $200,000 annual operating budget. Stipends from towns comprise 6%, advertising sales to members 7%, dues 33% and events 55%. “We are an event-driven organization,” and although many chamber events are highly-profitable, such as the Maine Lakes Brew Fest, others, while popular, don’t make much money, he noted.

“We do have to look, like any other business, at where we are spending our time and where we’re getting the most bang for our buck,” said Mains. Increasing membership is seen as one way to free up time from event planning to do more regional business promotion, he said.

Mains said the chamber has made a real effort to keep up with the changing technological times. Considerable funds and effort went into upgrading the website and continuing to improve the area guide, with a circulation of 25,000 copies annually. “We think we have one of the best area guides in the state, and we’re very proud of that.”

Mains is also proud that the chamber stepped up to embrace the Quick Response Code marketing that allows smart phone users to scan a bar code and be linked to the Chamber and area attractions. “Within the next couple of years, over 50% of all Internet searches will be done on smart phones,” he said.

Mains said his successor will be joining a solid organization on the upswing, with a strong set of goals in place. “It just a matter of putting the whole thing together and of everybody understanding their roles. We have such a great place to live in and so many people who want to help. And I’m not leaving. I’m still going to be a part of this community.”


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