DOVER-FOXCROFT - Dennis Lyford, Executive Director of the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce since 1995, is retiring from the position on Aug. 31. "It's time for a change for me, and for the organization," said Lyford. "The Chamber is headed in the right direction and has a very bright future." In retirement, Lyford will work on a part-time basis for the Piscataquis Regional YMCA on special projects and fundraising. He will continue his active involvement in community affairs, including service as chairman of the Dover-Foxcroft Board of Selectmen. The Chamber's Board of Directors is expected to select a successor for Lyford later this month.
A 12-year tenure as a Chamber of Commerce executive is probably twice as long as average for the job, according to Lyford, who is past president of the Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. "There's a lot of turnover in these positions, and it was important for me to bring some stability to our Chamber," he said.
The position Lyford took over in 1995 was much different than it is now. Even the former name -- Southern Piscataquis County Chamber of Commerce -- has been changed.
"It's amazing how things have changed. We were basically a visitors' information center back then," recalled Lyford. "We had a couple of events, the Business Expo in the spring and the Heritage Festival in the fall, but we didn't have the capacity to do much else. We didn't even have a fax machine then, and no one had e-mail."
Lyford made regional economic development his top priority.
"We wanted to reach out to different communities and businesses and make a difference in the economy. The Chamber brought Gov. Angus King up here to talk with county leaders, and that started the partnership between the state, county and Chamber. It led to the formation of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, which started as a Chamber committee. "Economic development was the biggest thing we did. I'm most proud of that work, which the Chamber helped to start," said Lyford.
The Chamber also beefed up events such as the Business Expo, added a sled dog race, started a holiday gift certificate program, helped get the Saturday Night in Dover-Foxcroft concert series off the ground, and reached out to the business community through Issues & Eggs breakfast sessions and Business After Hours programs. Rather than just waiting for visitors to stop by the office, the Chamber also conducted marketing outreach efforts by publishing a county guidebook and establishing a web site. In addition, the Chamber became a founding partner in the Maine Highlands, a regional tourism branding initiative, and is now involved in tourism development as an offshoot of its longstanding interest in economic development.
And, yes, the Chamber office can now be reached by both fax and e-mail. "It's been a nice run for me," said Lyford. "I've enjoyed it."
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