AUGUSTA — Two years is the minimum that a business or organization must be in operation to qualify for the President’s Choice Award handed out each year by the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce as a hat tip to its revenue growth, job creation and other contributions.

While each of this year’s nominees meet those criteria, they vary considerably in the length of time they’ve been operating, from a decade to more than a century, and in other areas too.

One nominee draws thousands of visitors to Augusta each day. Another provides knowledgeable assistance to central Maine car customers and invests in the education of its employees. A third helps provide an affordable education to the next wave of business leaders.

This year’s winner will be announced at the Kenney Awards ceremony, beginning at 5 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Augusta Civic Center.

DARLING’S

General Manager Lance Quinn poses for a portrait Thursday at Darling’s Chrysler Dodge Ram and Hyundai in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Though it originated in the Lewiston-Auburn area and now is headquartered in Bangor, the Darling’s auto chain has operated a car dealership in Augusta since 2007. The company’s sales consistently have topped those from the year before, and the last few years have been particularly busy in the Augusta branch. Last year, the company built a new dealership to replace one that had been damaged by fire several years before.

When the dealership opened on Western Avenue, near Charlie’s Motor Mall, “the business plan was to take some of Charlie’s market share,” said Lance Quinn, general manager of the Augusta location. “And we did that. We did it very successfully right off the gate.”

General Manager Lance Quinn poses for a portrait Thursday at Darling’s Chrysler Dodge Ram and Hyundai in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Fortunately, the competitors haven’t gotten into any turf wars. “We’re cordial neighbors with Charlie’s,” Quinn added.

Besides expanding to be able to sell and service more cars, the Augusta Darling’s also prides itself on investing in its employees’ training and tries to give back to area organizations, according to Lynne Darling, director of community relations and part-owner.

During the recession, Darling said, the company started sending around to public events a truck that gives out free ice cream and accepts money for charities. “We really want, even in hard times, to find a way to keep our guys busy,” she said.

MARKETPLACE AT AUGUSTA

A long line of customers streams through the doors at 11:59 p.m. Nov. 23, 2017, in The Marketplace at Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Many of the roughly 65,000 people who come to Augusta every day — more than tripling the city’s population — come to work or participate in state government. A smaller, but still sizable, portion of that group comes to shop in the state capital.

One of the most established shopping areas in the city is the Marketplace at Augusta, which has grown to 100 acres since Roger Pomerleau and two of his relatives — father Frank and brother Norman — first started buying land from private owners and developing it in the late 1980s.

Now an average of 29,000 people shop at the Marketplace each day, according to figures from the Chamber of Commerce. It started with a Walmart and a Sam’s Club and now includes a movie theater, restaurants, clothing outlets and a bookstore.

“The Marketplace is very much a development on an upswing,” said Keith Luke, the city’s deputy director of development services. “It has desirable stores, a very low vacancy rate. They’ve done very well to keep that development on the leading edge of retail and food service.”

One positive effect on the city’s economy is the $2.6 million the Marketplace now pays in property taxes, according to Luke.

Another effect, both Pomerleau and Luke said, is that the Marketplace sweetens the deal for someone considering a move to central Maine, and makes it easier for large employers such as MaineGeneral Health to attract talent.

“It’s one of the components that makes Augusta an attractive place to live,” said Pomerleau, who is now a minority owner of the Marketplace. “I guess that’s basically the bottom line.”

THOMAS COLLEGE

Thomas College President Laurie Lachance in her office Thursday at the Waterville college. Thomas has been nominated for the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s President’s Choice Award. Staff photo by David Leaming

For nearly 125 years, Thomas College in Waterville has contributed to the workforce of Maine, with about three-quarters of its graduates staying in-state, according to Chamber of Commerce figures. Its graduates can be found in the ranks of organizations and businesses around central Maine, including MaineGeneral Health, Central Maine Power Co. and Cianbro.

Its goal is to keep doing so in the coming years and to expand its offerings to meet the needs of a knowledge-based, technologically driven economy, according to the school’s president, Laurie Lachance. One example of its efforts is an accelerated master’s program in cyber security that Thomas is launching this fall.

“That is an absolutely critical area in any form of business and organization,” Lachance said, referring to the instances of hospitals, banks, stores and other companies being hacked. “Nobody is immune from this issue that is one of the most critical needs everywhere, so we’re trying to meet that need head on by creating a master’s program that can be completed while doing a day job and a portion online, and the best part about this is you don’t have to have a computer science undergrad.”

At the same time, Lachance said, Thomas strives to make its education affordable, an effort that was recently affirmed in two ways.

An analysis by The New York Times found Thomas College graduates to be in the top 23 percent for students who come from the bottom-fifth income bracket and have a chance of entering the top fifth as an adult. Last summer, Money Magazine ranked Thomas College 23rd in the nation based on the value of its degree.

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