PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Regional Chamber has chosen Chris Hall as its next CEO.
The regional Chamber’s board of directors chose Hall, who has been serving as its acting CEO since Godfrey Wood stepped down from the post at the end of last year, after “a robust national search” that yielded 85 well-qualified candidates, James Cohen, the Chamber’s board chairman, wrote in a letter sent Monday morning to Chamber members.
Hall has worked at the Portland Chamber for six years, serving as its senior vice president of governmental relations before taking over as acting CEO. He assumes the official CEO position immediately.
Before joining the Portland Chamber, Hall worked at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce for 17 years, including in his last position as senior vice president and general counsel.
Hall said he was excited and grateful for the opportunity to lead the Chamber forward.
When asked on Monday what set him apart from the competition, Hall told the Bangor Daily News it’s his experience working at the Chamber, which has a more complicated structure than typical chambers of commerce, his record of partnering with other stakeholders in the regional community and his vision for what the Chamber and region have the potential to be.
“I think collectively we felt Chris has the right mix of experience, a collaborative leadership style and a willingness to work closely with staff, the board and the community to help the chamber grow, and fulfill its mission to enhance the prosperity of the Greater Portland region,” Cohen said Monday morning.
The Chamber’s structure is complex because it actually consists of seven different constituent boards: the regional Chamber’s board, five community Chamber boards (one each for Scarborough, Westbrook and Gorham, Portland, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, and Falmouth and Cumberland) and the board that leads Propel, the Chamber’s young professionals group.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have so much professional experience dealing with that complexity,” Hall said. “It certainly gave me insight into not only how to run the Chamber, but also how to make it even better.”
Making it better will take a concerted effort, and will require working with partners to improve the Chamber’s reach and relevance.
“The bottom line is: Are we going to stay where we are or are we going to make it something new? And clearly our board, and the entire regional community, is ready for the next step,” he said. “And I think that’s a key part of why I got the job. Because I’ve been as an individual working on those partnerships both inside the organization, but also externally.”
One such partnership between the Chamber, the city of Portland and other groups was announced last week. Portland ConnectED is an effort to better prepare Portland’s students, from kindergarten through high school, for further education and future careers.
Portland’s Chamber is also working with the state Chamber to better tailor its efforts so they are supplemental rather than duplicative.
“We’re going to make those connections [with the state Chamber] stronger and realign our advocacy work and make sure it’s coordinated with theirs to an even greater degree,” Hall said.
Cohen, a partner at the Portland law firm Verrill Dana, said Hall “will be playing a critical role in continuing the process to better harmonize the individual efforts of our five community chambers and Propel to ensure that each of their missions can be accomplished, as well as to help each of those parts come together as a region so that we can collectively tackle the economic development challenges of the region.
“And part of that effort is going to be partnerships with higher education, with local government, and with the residents of the communities so that we can all move in the same direction,” Cohen said.
Cohen also said Hall will be integral in leading the Chamber through a strategic planning exercise.
“I would say the most important step that we plan to take over the next number of months is to engage in a strategic planning exercise to establish the vision and direction of the organization for the years ahead, and we’ll be looking to Chris to help lead us through that process,” Cohen said. “We’ve been doing preliminary work over the last number of months that will help guide that process, but to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of our members, the community, and the area businesses, we need to make sure that we have heard from as many people as we can, and that we’ve synthesized that input into a clear direction for our future.”
Hall identified the challenges to that vision as the lingering effects of the recession and the inherent pitfalls that exist when trying to bring together myriad groups within a region to focus efforts on a common goal.
But Hall is confident that a proactive approach to regional development through partnerships and looking at best practices around the country will yield results.
“I’m confident that if you give us a couple years, we can show you a high level of success with regional development,” he said.