HOULTON – Lori Weston has held the title of executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce for a little more than a week, and her mind rapidly continues to come up with ideas.
She wants to revamp the Chamber’s Web site and create a virtual business tour; she wants to add a little kick to the annual Potato Feast Days celebration; she wants to raise money, and lots of it, to construct the organization’s new office building.
But overall, Weston said Tuesday, her primary goal is relatively simple – she wants to craft the Chamber into a network for business owners, a connection to listen to their needs and help them promote themselves and the town.
“I’m very excited about this position,” said Weston, speaking from within her tidy office. “I spent last week familiarizing myself with the files, looking over our membership lists and chairing my first board of directors meeting. It has really been wonderful.”
Described as “energetic” and “positive” by board President Chuck Ames, Weston replaces former administrator Chris Batby, who was terminated in early August after the board decided that a new administrator was needed to tackle fundraising challenges.
One of Weston’s goals is to find creative ways to lure travelers off Interstate 95 and into downtown Market Square. Right now, she is busy compiling the Chamber’s events calendar, putting the finishing touches on the candidate forum, and preparing for the organization’s annual holiday parade.
She also is getting ready to shift a major fundraising initiative into overdrive.
The Chamber is in the midst of a campaign to raise money to construct new office space.
At this point, the organization is located in the historic White Memorial Building in Market Square, also home to the town’s museum.
With little storage, display or office space, the building is not the best location for the Chamber. In February, officials began looking for new space so that the organization would be more visible to residents and tourists.
In June, plans for a new office drew closer after Ward Cedar Log Homes of Houlton donated a cedar building to the Chamber.
While the building kit has been donated, the Chamber has to come up with an estimated $90,000 to erect the structure and outfit it with necessities such as plumbing and electricity. Officials hope to raise more than $50,000 in cash and secure in-kind donations to pay for the rest of the project.
“I really want to find a way to truly get out there and start raising as much money as we possibly can,” she said. “We have already started, but we have a ways to go.”
In the long term, Weston said, she also wants to put more pizzazz into Houlton’s Potato Feast Days celebration. Next year’s fete, which lauds the area’s most famous cash crop, will be held during the town’s bicentennial celebration.
“I think that we should really look at putting more focus on the potato,” she noted. “I think that focus has been lost in the last few years.
“Houlton has so much to offer,” Weston added Tuesday. “I am excited to join the Chamber team. It’s a great opportunity to try to make a positive difference.”