WATERVILLE — For Chris Gaunce, Waterville always has been home.
Gaunce, an owner of Central Maine Motors on Kennedy Memorial Drive, has been selected as the 2016 Business Person of the Year by the Mid Maine Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber honored him previously as the Rising Star in 2008, and he has been a staple in the community for years.
“I was born and raised in Waterville,” Gaunce said in his office last week. He attended Waterville schools up until college, when he went to Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. After graduation, there were a handful of stops before his homecoming. He worked as a district sales manager for General Motors, traveling in the northwest part of Michigan. He was the metropolitan district manager in the other Portland — the one in Oregon. He rejoined the retail side of business and joined the Hendrick Auto Group in Merriam, Kansas.
“Then I moved here,” Gaunce said.
That was in 1997, and he’s been in the area ever since. He said he came back to help the family business grow.
His grandfather started the company in 1935, he recalled, and his father came on board in 1960. Now, all these years later, he still sees opportunities for growth in the company.
“I tend to work at 30,000 feet,” he said, meaning he’s more involved in the larger picture of the company than he is in day-to-day sales. He said there is a lot of forecasting, mapping, and making sure what the company does is right for the employees and customers.
“Taking care of people is what we do,” he said.
Gaunce, who turns 47 on Tuesday, said he sees a lot of opportunity for growth in the region. Based on the city’s location relative to larger population centers— just about an hour from either Portland or Bangor and even closer to Lewiston — and with Colby College investing in revitalizing the downtown, he thinks Waterville is poised for growth. He said it’s a great place for a person to make a living.
“I see some real bright days ahead,” he said.
Gaunce, a father of two, said his role is to make sure the company stays “relevant and responsive to the needs of people.” He’s involved with the Central Maine Growth Council, a public-private economic development group based in Waterville. While he was honored by the Chamber award, which will be presented formally at an April 27 awards ceremony, he said collectively a lot of people are working to keep the region growing.
“It’s very humbling,” he said. “There are an awful lot of good people in this region that make an awful lot of good things happen.”
Kimberly Lindlof, president of the chamber, said Gaunce has set himself apart in the community as someone who listens first and is thoughtful and deliberate in his comments. She said his work as chairman of the Central Maine Growth Council’s board and other volunteer work, as well as his accomplishments as a business leader, have benefited the region.
“Chris is definitely a leader, not a follower, and he’s not afraid to try new things,” she said.
Gaunce credited the 190 employees of Central Maine Motors for the success of the business. He said his schedule varies from day to day but is always interesting.
“If you want to make it here, you can make it here,” he said.
Colin Ellis — 861-9253