HERMON, Maine — The Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce entered 2010 with about 650 members and ended the year with 805.
In 2011, the Chamber’s 100th anniversary, the goal is to grow that membership even more, said John Porter, president and CEO.
“The Chamber is 100 years old and it will be a thousand members strong,” said Porter.
Roughly 170 Chamber members gathered Tuesday morning at the Morgan Hill Events Center for the group’s annual breakfast. As part of the official business, Julie Munsey, marketing and public relations specialist at Oxford Networks, took over as chairwoman of the board of directors.
The Chamber will be active in advocating for its members in Augusta this year, said Munsey, pushing for streamlined regulation and an overall more business-friendly environment.
“With the new year, and the new administration, I think we’re posed to make great strides,” Munsey said.
Porter said Bangor Chamber members see tax reform as a big need, as well. Porter said he’s heard there’s little political will on either side of the aisle for tax reform, but it remains an issue and the Chamber would push it.
“The system is still broken, and needs to be fixed,” he said.
Munsey said the chamber also would look at ways to keep young people from leaving the state by encouraging job growth in the region and advocating for quality-of-life improvements, such as the proposed arena in Bangor.
Bill Crawford, vice president for lending at Seaboard Federal Credit Union in Bucksport, said he thought the Chamber was on the right track.
“I’m pretty encouraged — the Chamber’s growth was fantastic last year,” Crawford said.
The keynote speaker at Wednesday’s breakfast was Carol Coultas, editor of the biweekly news journal Mainebiz. Coultas shared some of what she’s heard from the Maine business community and its thoughts on the economy.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty out there, she said, with business owners unsure of the impact of federal tax reform and health care reform, as well as questions around the new governor and his administration.
“There just seems to be a lot of wait and see right now,” said Coultas. “That’s sort of freezing up any sort of new investment.”
She suggested that the business community is looking for clarity about regulation in the state, and that agreement about worker classification also would help things.
Coultas also talked about her publication’s current lead article, which features thoughts on 2011 from five economists in Maine: Charles Colgan of the University of Southern Maine, Jonathan Reisman of the University of Maine at Machias, Beata Caranci of TD Bank Financial Group, Christopher St. John of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, and J. Scott Moody of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
All five see the economy improving in 2011, but all agree it will be a slow recovery, Coultas said.
Maine lost more than 30,000 jobs in the recession, she said, and the economists’ estimates on regaining those jobs range from three to four years out.
While Colgan thought the European debt crisis would hurt Maine exports, Caranci suggested Maine will do well because the state’s top trade partners — Canada, Malaysia and China — are all doing well.
There are reasons for optimism, the economists reported. Colgan and Caranci pointed to growing productivity and profits as leading to increased hiring. Moody suggested “the winds of change are blowing in Augusta,” as a positive sign, Coultas said.
On the housing market, Colgan suggested the worst of the crisis would be over by the middle of 2011, and prices and sales would begin to climb, said Coultas. Caranci said the number of distressed properties and foreclosures would affect the market into 2012, maybe even into 2013. And Moody, Reitman and St. John all saw a slow recovery for the market, Coultas said.