PITTSFIELD, Maine — When Pittsfield hosts a business and energy forum next week, most of the participants will be locals looking for information on how to improve their bottom lines, but they represent only one side of the equation.
On the other side are representatives from government and trade organizations who attend events like Pittsfield’s because it’s a valuable opportunity to take advantage of the best form of communication there is: one-to-one conversation. That interaction is crucial for people such as Herb Thomas, who represents the federal Small Business Association for central Maine. Thomas and his colleagues, whose mission is to spread information about the SBA’s loan assistance programs, attend numerous events like Pittsfield’s.
“We try to take advantage of most opportunities to get out there and get in front of people,” said Thomas, who is one of the speakers at Tuesday’s forum. “We hear it all the time, people saying they didn’t know about the Small Business Administration. We try to overcome that by participating in these things.”
A representative from Kennebec County Council of Governments will also attend the forum. “It’s a valuable part of our overall efforts to let people know what we do,” said Executive Director Kenneth Young Jr.
Maine Economic Development Commissioner John Richardson said that prompting businesses to have conversations about their energy use is critical in their efforts to compete here and in the global economy.
“I think these are the kinds of things that business owners need to attend,” Richardson said of Pittsfield’s forum. “To have open dialogue about energy options is going to be critically important to the survival of Maine businesses.”
Pittsfield Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said the town has been hosting business and energy forums since 2002. This is the first year they have been combined.
“We put them together to save money but also because a lot of the same people come to both of them,” said Ruth. “For the average citizen or businessperson, it’s hard to run around looking at all these Web sites and making phone calls. People can come spend just a few minutes here or stay the entire evening. Hopefully they’ll walk away with a lot of resources.”
Tuesday’s event, which begins at 6 p.m. in the Warsaw Middle School gymnasium on School Street in Pittsfield, features large-group presentations by business and energy experts followed by break-out sessions on topics ranging from how to reduce electricity consumption to how businesses can pay off debts they can’t afford.
Emmie Theberge, clean energy coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, is scheduled to speak at the forum about how businesses can reduce energy usage. She’ll come armed with a recent publication by the NRCM that explores the link between energy efficiency and economic prosperity. The publication is based on research by University of Southern Maine economist Charlie Colgan, who also chairs the Legislature’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission.
“This forum is quite perfect, actually,” said Theberge. “We’re trying to engage the business community as much as possible. It’s one thing to write a report, but then you have to get it out there and into the right hands.”
Michael Starn, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said his organization doesn’t track the prevalence of forums like Pittsfield’s, but said they happen in various forms across the state.
“Pittsfield has been a very progressive community in terms of looking at a variety of energy conservation options,” said Starn. “A lot of the energy policies that we have are driven at the federal and state level, but implementation of things at the local level really requires municipal and business support. It is a very positive development that businesses and government are talking together in a cooperative way rather than an adversarial way.”
Starn added that for small-business owners and community members seeking information, the local school gymnasium is often more attractive than a legislative hearing room or government office.
“People like to do things that are local,” he said. “When they go to a forum, they like to see people they know.”
Ruth said that in the past, attendees have traveled from as far as Augusta and Bangor. The forum is open to anyone, whether they’re from Pittsfield or not or whether they’re a business owner or just a curious citizen.
“A lot of this information could be useful in the household, not just a business,” she said.