AUGUSTA — Before becoming president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1989, Peter Thompson spent more than two decades at Central Maine Power Co., largely handling public relations for the electric utility company.

He’s held a similar role as the face of the regional chamber of commerce and, in some ways, as the spokesman for positive development in the Augusta region. In February, Thompson will step down from that position after leading the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce for the last 25 years.

“Part of what I do I think that’s important to all of us is point out the positives,” Thompson said in a recent interview at his Augusta office. “If we just dwelled on our negatives, we’d be driving each other into the ground. We’ve got so many positives.”

Thompson named a few recent positive developments in the capital city: the completion of MaineGeneral Health’s regional hospital at the end of last year, the expansion of the Kennebec County Courthouse expected to be open early next year, the state’s new fleet maintenance facility under construction on Industrial Drive and an expansion at NRF Distributors.

“All of these positive things — it’s important, in my mind, to dwell a little bit on that because it inspires us,” he said.

Thompson, who also served as mayor of Augusta from 1981 to 1989, said one of the most satisfying things he does as head of the chamber is its annual awards ceremony for local businesses and community leaders. He said the purpose of the awards is to recognize people who have worked hard and to inspire others.

“That’s a big part of what I think this job is about,” Thompson said.

Roger Katz, a state senator and a former Augusta mayor himself, said Thompson has been a huge cheerleader for the Kennebec Valley and has done a great job of bringing out civic pride in the region.

“Just watching him after the last 40 years, the way he deals with people, the way he accentuates the positives, the way he lives his own life, he’s just a quality person,” Katz said.

One of Thompson’s most important accomplishments was encouraging more cooperation between the Augusta and Waterville regions, Katz said. Along with others in the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce in Waterville, Thompson helped create the People of the Kennebec — a group that focused on economic development in the larger region.

The most tangible result of the group was the establishment of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority and FirstPark — a business park in Oakland owned by 24 communities in the development authority. The park itself has struggled, still far short of the 3,000 jobs promised by the developers of the project 15 years ago, but Katz said the importance of the cooperation goes beyond the park.

“He helped change the mindset of people, to realize that if we stayed in our own little backyards that we are not going to do as well than if we joined together with nearby communities,” Katz said. “Peter has always preached that Augusta is not big enough, Waterville is not big enough to stand on its own and accomplish much.”

Thompson said the regional cooperation from the group also assisted the 1997 merger of Augusta’s Kennebec Valley Medical Center and Waterville’s Mid-Maine Medical Center into MaineGeneral Health and led to the creation of the Augusta-Waterville micropolitan for federal statistic purposes.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said Thompson is well respected, well liked and always willing to help.

He said part of the role of regional chambers of commerce is to bring their communities together and celebrate positive attributes, and Thompson made a tremendous difference with his attitude and his drive.

“They don’t come better than Peter Thompson. I truly believe that,” Connors said. “By way of his personality, his commitment, his professional integrity, I think he has been a gift for the greater Augusta community, if you will, as well to the chamber community.”

The Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce has formed a search committee to replace Thompson and will advertise the job shortly, said Kim Vandermeulen, chairman of the chamber’s board.

Vandermeulen, CEO of Alternative Manufacturing Inc., in Winthrop, said the chamber is hoping to announce the new president and CEO by the end of November and for the new person to start in January or early February.

He said the new president and CEO won’t have the name recognition of Thompson, but that’s the nature of the process when there has been someone in the position for 25 years.

“He’s clearly been the face and driver of the chamber for a long, long time. Everybody knows Peter. Everybody knows Peter is the chamber, so it’s going to be huge shoes to fill,” Vandermeulen said. “But at the same time — Peter will say the same himself — it’s time to have some new blood.”

Thompson said his departure from the chamber in February will likely be his retirement from full-time work, but he plans on doing some type of business development consulting work still. He plans to spend more time with his wife, Mary Thompson, and spend more time doing outdoor activities such as kayaking.

Thompson told the board in February he would be leaving in a year.

“It’s time to get somebody else involved that has other ideas, other skills, other talents, other connections or whatever,” he said. “This has been good for me.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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