FREEPORT — After more than a decade of discussion and planning, business owners mingled at the first Freeport Chamber of Commerce meeting Monday night at Buck’s Naked BBQ on Route 1.
For the past two years, the Freeport Merchants Association and the Freeport Economic Development Corp. have worked with the town and a Chamber of Commerce Task Force to plan an organization that would promote and offer services for local business.
But FMA, an organization that markets Freeport as a tourism destination, has waffled on whether or not to join the chamber. After several changes to the organizational structure, FMA decided to withdraw from the group, remain an independent organization and focus solely on tourism marketing.
The chamber’s first organizational meeting was attended by nearly 50 business owners. Some were already chamber members, and some were there to learn about chamber benefits.
Dentist Joe Wetherhold of Alta Dental of Maine on Route 1 attended the meeting as a potential chamber member. He said he was there to learn more about what the chamber could offer his business.
“Being new to Freeport, I am looking for ways to get involved in the community and to meet people,” he said. “This is a great way to talk to people and see what’s available for businesses in town.”
Wendy Whitacre, of Keller Williams Realtors, joined the chamber a month ago and said she is excited to start the process.
“This is a good thing,” she said. “I look forward to networking and expanding my business.”
Town Councilor Jim Cassida said the purpose of the meeting was to announce the arrival of the chamber, and to get the organization off the ground. He said people are needed to help set the organizational structure, and a nine-member board will have to be established. Nominations for board members will be accepted between now and the next meeting on Nov.4 by e-mailing Sande Updegraph, executive director of FEDC.
Cassida said any chamber member is eligible to serve on the board, and by the next meeting, the planning and development of the chamber can begin.
“The chamber board can decide its bylaws, its term limits and its membership structure,” Cassida said.
Councilor Joe Migliaccio said the next three months will be the time to build the framework of the chamber and as soon as the organization is incorporated, members will begin to benefit from dues payments.
Currently there are about 550 businesses in Freeport and as of Monday evening, 58 had joined the new organization.
Membership coordinator Wynne Levine said the chamber has picked up “huge momentum.”
“To have over 50 people show up to the first organizational meeting is very encouraging,” Levine said. “We are seeing new members sign up every day and have received a lot of support from people in town.”
She said the chamber will connect businesses and generate communication between members.
Wendy Caisse, owner of Buck’s Naked BBQ and a member of the task force, said the organization will benefit the town.
“It feels as if there is no connectivity within our business community now,” Caisse said. “The chamber will force a convergence of information and make the business environment more user friendly. We need one voice, one place to get information.”
She said the organizational piece of the group will be exciting because the board members will be able to “write its own story” and become the organization it wants to be.
“People who say they have no voice can join the chamber, sit on the board and have a say,” Caisse said. “The chamber is an organic organization for local businesses.”
The next meeting will be Wednesday, Nov. 4, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn. An interim board will be elected that night.
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.