Innovative and collaborative leadership with a focus on honoring the past and building the future was the highlight at last Wednesday’s Windham Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) annual meeting. Held at the Windham Veteran’s Center, the meeting began with a social hour/buffet dinner served by Rustler’s Steak House and included special guest speaker Charles Lawton, chief economist at the Portland-based Planning Decisions.
Thomas Bartell, executive director of WEDC, opened the annual meeting by greeting the board members and welcoming their guests. “This is the first time that we have attempted an annual meeting with a program and invited guests,” Bartell stated. “We look forward to continuing this tradition in the years to come.”
“It is truly amazing how much is happening with economic growth in the Windham and Raymond area,” Bartell declared in his welcoming statements. The various economic initiatives and entrepreneurial developments Bartell identified included, but were not limited to, plans such as the community building efforts of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Institute. The plans for the Institute are being created by a chamber committee, but the certifications will be handled through Windham/Raymond Adult Education.
Also mentioned were opportunities to diversify Windham’s economy through the future Scale Up entrepreneur classes brought to the Sebago region in part through the efforts of Katherine Damon with Gorham Savings Bank and the same chamber committee working on the leadership institute.
Additionally, the successful entrepreneurial endeavors of local resident, Stephanie Lay were highlighted. Lay and her son, both proprietors of the Maine Tex Grilled Salsa business, will soon be expanding in Windham, creating new jobs in the area with a portion of proceeds going to the non-profit organization, The Special Foundation for Autism.
After the welcoming statements, the business meeting was called to order beginning with a review of the treasurer’s report followed by board of director elections. Two seats out of the fourteen WEDC board member positions needed to be renewed/filled. Steve McFarland, a current board member, was nominated and voted unanimously to renew his three-year term. Charlotte Mace, executive director of Biobased Maine, was nominated to replace former board member, Peter Anania who chose to step down from his position. Mace was also voted in unanimously.
“I am so pleased to be appointed to a 3-year term on the Windham Economic Development Corporation, and I am eager to participate in existing projects and contribute to future economic development in Windham. I am passionate about economic development in Maine, and I want to help ensure that our community prospers through sustainable economic development that benefits our economy and families,” Mace stated.
The election process continued with the voting of the WEDC executive committee. President Dustin Roma, secretary Steve McFarland and treasurer Jeff Vermette all renewed their positions. Beth Schidzig stepped down from her role as vice president. Larry Eliason was voted in to replace her.
Upon the completion of the elections, president Roma reviewed the projects underway that are enhancing economic development in the greater Windham area. “Anglers Road Project is very close to being completed with one lot already sold,” he said. Also mentioned were the collaborative efforts with the towns of Standish, Gray, Raymond as well as with Saint Joseph’s College that include broadband internet and utility infrastructure progress with the intention to support business growth and strengthen existing business.
Roma also took a moment to recognize the hard work and efforts of executive director Thomas Bartell, thanking him for his progressive and cooperative leadership skills. This was met with a round of applause and standing ovation.
Finally, Charles Lawton was introduced as guest speaker. Lawton began his presentation by first praising the successful collective leadership he witnessed that evening, recognizing the sincere efforts to provide a successful economic environment for the people of the greater lakes region. “After all,” Lawton stated, “Economic development is really about people.”
Issues facing Maine’s economic status, Lawton explained, include the challenges of demographic imbalance, the loss of manufacturing jobs, those hurt by globalization, and efforts to provide the much needed skills for economic success. “Our economic challenges can no longer be solved in the traditional way,” Lawton pointed out. “We can no longer simply place an ad in the paper. Those days are long gone.”
Adaptation to new technology and business cooperation are two ways in which Maine people and communities can reach desired economic success, Lawton explained. He ended his presentation recognizing that the Windham and Raymond communities are heading in the right direction.
Before the annual meeting adjourned, a moment of honor took place to acknowledge the efforts and dedication of a past trailblazing leader. Members of the WEDC did so by recognizing former WEDC board member Thomas “Tommy” Gleason, who passed away in May of this year. His “determination to ‘make things happen’ and his drive to make Windham ‘all that it can be’” is noteworthy. As a result, the WEDC board established the Thomas “Tommy” Gleason Economic Development Champion Award. The award went to Martin Lippman for his outstanding vision and devotion to transform the area, and who provided the donation to secure the land and Chaffin Pond that is now Donnabeth Lippman Park named after Martin’s late wife. A plaque was also awarded to Gleason’s widow, Nancy Gleason, as a show of gratitude for Tommy’s service to the community.
Special thanks went to Bomb Diggity Bakery and Café for providing desserts for the evening as well as to Blossoms of Windham for supplying the flower arrangements. Jars of Maine Tex Grilled Salsa were given as gifts to all members and guests upon the completion of the annual meeting.