AUGUSTA — When Dick O’Connor first approached Randy Hutchins 15 years ago about buying the business he had started with his brother Mike, Hutchins hadn’t given it a lot of thought.

“I explained I wasn’t really interested,” Hutchins said in his office at the O’Connor Auto Park in Augusta. “I always had said someday I wanted to have my own business.”

To Hutchins, who was then in his mid-30s and had worked for O’Connor since 1992, “someday” had not yet arrived, but even so, he said he’d be happy to talk about it.

The O’Connors had started the Augusta auto dealership in the 1950s. While they didn’t have a clear exit strategy, Hutchins said, they also didn’t want to see the dealership sold off in pieces.

Now, Hutchins is owner of the O’Connor Auto Park in Augusta, which has been named the 2019 Large Business of the Year by the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce. Hutchins and his company will be honored Jan. 25 at the Kenney Awards, the chamber’s annual awards banquet at the Augusta Civic Center.

The Large Business of the Year award recognizes a company with 10 or more employees that had demonstrated revenue growth and job creation. It is recognized for excellence in its industry through innovation, unparalleled customer service, staff development and marketing practices. And its impact on the Kennebec Valley is measured through its community involvement and economic impact.

“We’re a very big force in the auto industry statewide,” Hutchins said. “We do business all over the state, not just locally and in central Maine.”

Since taking over in 2005, Hutchins said he added dealerships and expanded beyond the O’Connor brothers’ original footprint.

The Augusta campus is home to the Volkswagen, Buick, GMC, Chevrolet and Cadillac dealerships, as well as heavy duty truck lines like Mack and Volvo, and medium duty truck lines like Isuzu and BWS trailers. It’s also the distributor of Bluebird school buses, from full-size to the 14-seat “micro birds.” O’Connor also has collision and reconditioning centers.

“For years, it was O’Connor GMC,” Hutchins said. “I still correct my staff. I feel bad for my staff that works in all the other divisions. I want them all recognized.”

To make that expansion happen, Hutchins bought up neighboring properties near the intersection of Riverside Drive and Route 3, like the former Kirchner warehouse and former Lipman Poultry building. He was able to win a concession from the manufacturers to locate all the GM franchises under a single roof.

Now, the company employs 270 employees and occupies 60 acres.

Under his ownership, he said he has not considered moving the business or changing its name.

The name was well-established and respected, and he found the people in Augusta to be hard working and loyal.

“Our No. 1 civic role is that we have to give back to the communities that support us. If you don’t have that philosophy, maybe other parts of the country you could stay in business, but I don’t think that’s the right approach. I am a firm believer that you give back to the people who support you, you keep reinvesting in each other and everyone grows,” he said.

His policy is to do business with the people who do business with him whenever he can.

“Any time you have someone in town that looks beyond their own site and looks to help all boats rise and improve the overall economic and social aspects for the town is a huge asset to the community,” Augusta Mayor David Rollins said. “And we’re certainly glad we have a company like that in the city of Augusta.”

Even as Hutchins oversees both the O’Connor Auto Park in Augusta and O’Connor Motor Co. in Portland, he is looking to the future and what changes will come to the state.

As companies in Maine are bought by out-of-state corporations, it can shift purchasing decisions out of state as well.

“We lose a lot locally when we lose local ownership,” he said.

“I don’t know where we’re going to be in the next 20 years when all the local companies have been bought up by the major conglomerates that (are) out of state,” he said. “Who’s going to buy the shirts for Little League and for football, all those sports teams? Who is going to support those programs? Every year, we do a lot of them. But one of my concerns about where we are as a state, where our local ownership is going because of the big conglomerates. We very much enjoy giving back to our community.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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