BANGOR, Maine — John Porter said he was doing just fine in the private sector.
After spending two decades as a reporter, editorial writer and editor at the Portland Press Herald-Maine Sunday Telegram, he stepped down last June when the newspapers changed owners.
Three months later, Porter launched his own communications consulting firm, John Porter Public Strategies. Two months after that, one of his clients, Biddeford-based GWI, helped lure $25.4 million in federal stimulus funds to support the creation of a fiber-optic network to support broadband Internet access in rural Maine.
“Frankly, I might have been better off financially staying put and growing that firm,” Porter said Tuesday at a press conference announcing that he would be the next president and CEO of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. “But this was the right fit at the right time.”
Porter will take over management of the 800-member Chamber later this month with a goal of promoting more economic development in the region and harnessing the tremendous research capacity the area has to offer.
“I think this region is poised for growth more than any other in the state,” he said.
Porter was the leading choice among five candidates who were interviewed during a four-month search process. As Porter saw a unique opportunity when he accepted the Chamber position, board member and search committee chairman Jerry Whalen said Chamber representatives saw the same in their leadership choice.
“He’s not a seasoned Chamber executive,” Whalen said Tuesday. “But, that’s part of what was appealing. He has the opportunity to be a transformational leader.”
Chamber board members made it clear last July that they were looking for new leadership when an executive committee voted unanimously to terminate a contract with Candy Guerette. She had served for nearly 13 years as the Chamber’s president, but the board grew tired of her job performance. The decision to let her go led to a short but bitter dispute over the reasons for her dismissal and the terms of her severance package.
John Diamond, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors, agreed with Whalen that the time was right for a change in leadership.
“[Porter] possesses the key attributes that the board wanted in its new president,” Diamond said. “He understands and has been a high-profile advocate for business and economic development and for collaborative efforts to advance those mutually dependent interests.”
Porter talked Tuesday about what he called obvious goals for the area such as green-lighting a new arena for Bangor, continuing to reform the city’s waterfront and getting the American Folk Festival back on track. But he also said the Bangor area needs to be a leader in economic development and he believes the Chamber can play a role in that. One of the things he hopes to tackle is to help bring the many area groups together working toward the same goals.
“There aren’t enough resources to be fighting over turf,” he said.
Whalen said one quality Porter brings is optimism.
“There has generally been a lot of pessimism when it comes to growth and economic development,” he said. “As we look to build this region, the hope is to shift from an attitude of glass half-empty to one that is glass half-full.”
Since Guerette left in mid-July, Karen Cole, the Chamber’s marketing and communications director, has served as interim president. She now will return to her original role, but Diamond said her efforts during the last six months were invaluable.
“She took the role willingly through a time of uncertainty,” he said. “She wasn’t interested in the position full time, but she sure acted like a candidate.”
It is expected Porter will be introduced formally to Chamber members at its annual business breakfast on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at Spectacular Event Center.
Originally from Connecticut, Porter, his wife and two children have lived in Greater Portland for the last 20 years. They plan to relocate to the Bangor area soon.