More than 100 leaders of local businesses filled the Darrows Barn at Round Top Farm in Damariscotta on Friday, Sept. 22 for the inaugural Twin Villages Business Forum.
The day-long event, a collaboration between local organizations and the towns of Damariscotta and Newcastle, promoted the area and its resources while also demonstrating the depth and breadth of the local talent finding success in the Twin Villages, according to Twin Villages Alliance Chair Mary Kate Reny.
“This is how economic development starts, way before plans are submitted or nails hammered. The ideas are exchanged, curiosity is raised, and decisions are made,” Reny said.
The forum originated from the Damariscotta-Newcastle Rotary Club’s mission to combat food insecurity in the area by addressing some of the root issues of hunger, including unemployment, according to Bob Topper, who chairs the rotary’s business development committee.
Recognizing the club wouldn’t be able to address the need on its own, it reached out to town officials in Damariscotta and Newcastle, as well as the Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce, for assistance in developing the business forum.
However, it was the addition of “the indispensable Mary Kate Reny” that helped Friday’s forum become a truly successful event, Topper said.
“She’s really a well-recognized member of the community who was able to bring all these people together to create this great event,” Topper said. “And with the tremendous energy she brought to the event, it’s very easy to be a fan of hers.”
The event kicked off Friday morning with a speech by Damariscotta River Association Executive Director Steven Hufnagel titled “The Competitive Advantage of Here and Now,” which highlighted the region’s resources and the advantages it provides for entrepreneurs.
Dream Local Digital founder Shannon Kinney, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Marketing Director Kris Folsom, and Amanda Hill and Lee Goldberg, of the WCSH NOW team, spoke on how to harness social media to best reach and interact with desired audiences.
After the “Taste of the Twin Villages” lunch, former independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, director and senior adviser for Thornburg Investment Management Inc. and founding CEO of the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies, spoke about developing new strategies to create a workforce in the state and the challenges in the path.
“I thought Eliot Cutler’s talk was really thought-provoking, and I hope it starts a conversation about what we can do here that brings some meaningful results,” Topper said.
Lincoln County Television recorded all three of the keynote addresses, which will be available on channel 7 and at lctv.org.
The rest of the day consisted of smaller workshops tackling topics from trades, manufacturing, and technology to the working waterfront, each with a panel of speakers bringing their own, unique take on finding success and working within the region.
Speaking for the Rotary, Topper said the organization was very pleased with the day’s events. In the upcoming weeks, the committee that organized the forum will meet again to debrief and develop a survey to send to presenters, panelists, and attendees to garner feedback on the event as a whole.
Based on the responses to the survey, Topper said there “is certainly potential” that the Twin Villages Business Forum could become an annual event.
“What I really hope people came away with is an awareness for the sense of the community we have here, the knowledge about the truly thriving economy in this area, and appreciation for the tools we have available here,” Topper said. “From my perspective, I think it went really well, and my guess is that if there’s enough enthusiasm for the event … I don’t see why we wouldn’t bring it back.”