STANDISH – The Lakes Region ought to toot its own horn a bit more.
For many attendees, that was the key takeaway from the second annual Sebago Summit, a full-day affair held at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish Tuesday by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.
“Growing the Lakes Region area is just like a small business,” said Luanne Cameron of State Farm insurance in Standish. “You have to build one block at a time, and we have some wonderful building blocks put into place. Now, it’s sort of tying it together. It’s about creating that culture, and trying to get that message out about it being a wonderful place.”
According to Aimee Senatore, executive director of the chamber, about 200 people attended the summit, which ran from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., and featured keynote speakers, forums and 55 business exhibitors.
The seminars focused on a variety of themes, including “Fostering A Successful Business Culture,” “Maximize Your Marketing,” and “Show Me the Money! How Social Media Pays Off.”
The summit’s theme was “The Power of Partnership.” From 9:15-10:15 a.m., Kevin Hancock, president of Hancock Lumber, delivered a keynote address, “Collective Impact: Building Networks for Success,” in which he discussed how collaboration has helped his business thrive.
In the afternoon, Senatore moderated a keynote panel featuring Jess Knox, a Brunswick-based strategic innovation coordinator; Sheri Huff of Lee’s Family Trailer, and Bill Baker, the assistant city manager of Westbrook, discussing “The Power of Partnership.”
Gordon Billington, town manager of Standish, said a comment by Knox in the keynote panel had resonated with him.
“Jess said he grew up in York, and he said, ‘There’s two things you can’t do in York,’ ” Billington said. “ ‘You can’t fail and you can’t brag.’ He said, ‘Baloney. Those are two things you need to do. You’ve got to be able to go out there and fail and learn from mistakes, and you really should brag.’ ”
“We have a lot to promote,” Billington added.
Cameron said she was persuaded by the final panel discussion that people in the Lakes Region ought to refer to people “from away” differently, as well.
“[We need] to change our verbiage about how we can all make a difference and not to call people who are from outside of the state of Maine, calling them ‘away people,’ ” Cameron said.
Echoing Billington’s sentiments, Tom Bartell, executive director of the Windham Economic Development Corporation, said that one of the themes of the summit was that the communities of the Lakes Region are too “humble.”
“The whole community has to embrace itself and say, ‘This is a great place to be, and there are other people who want to come here, and there are businesses that can come here and help service our area and help us grow,” Bartell said.
Part of the region’s new spirit, the participants suggested, could include a more friendly approach to outside developers and businesses looking to invest in the area. Erik Heyland, the developer of the Microtel hotel under construction in North Windham, said that he would have appreciated a friendlier reception from the Windham town government, when he unsuccessfully sought to establish a Tax Increment Financing district in the area of his new development.
“I’ve done many developments around Kennebunk, Wells, York, all those, and it’s the same across the board,” Heyland said. “The municipalities tend to clog the works in a lot of cases. Speaking from a developer’s standpoint, it would be nice to have a little cooperation from the municipalities.”
In Senatore’s view, the discussions at the Summit were the manifestation of a new spirit of cooperation in the Lakes Region business community.
“At some point everybody was in their own little bubble and looked at each other as competitors,” Senatore said. “The discussion has opened up, and this new mindset has really started to take hold that we can all learn from one another, we can all benefit from learning what each other does, and we can make some big things happen. There’s a momentum that is really ramping up that is really promising. It’s exciting, and this event was a day to showcase that.”
“There are new discussions and new groups that are becoming very active within our 10 town community,” Senatore added. “It’s happening in Standish; it’s happening in Raymond; it’s happening in Casco; it’s happening in Windham; it’s happening in a lot of our communities.”
If the Lakes Region is going to talk itself up, Billington said, it needs to follow through with commensurate action. The Standish town manager mentioned Baker’s discussion of bringing the “Tough Mudder” event to Westbrook.
“ ‘Where are we going to park 6,000 cars?’ Billington said. “If he couldn’t answer that question, he was going to lose the opportunity to bring them there. He had to be ready for prime time. If we do market and brand, we have to be ready to back it up.”
Sebago Summit participants Luanne Cameron, Erik Heyland, Dave Morton, Tom Bartell, Gordon Billington and Andy Souliere discuss the prospects of business growth in the Lakes Region at a business reception at the conclusion of the second annual business convention held on Tuesday in Standish.