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February 8, 2019

New Aroostook chamber director's mantra: 'Rural doesn't mean isolated'

Courtesy / LaNiece Sirois
Courtesy / LaNiece Sirois
LaNiece Sirois, the new executive director for the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce in Presque Isle, aims forge membership and community connections.

At a glance

Communities served by the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce are: Ashland, Baine, Caribou, Castle Hill, Chapman, Connor, Easton, Mapleton, Mars Hill, Masardis, New Sweden, Oxbow, Perham, Portage Lake, Presque Isle, Stockholm, Wade, Washburn, Westfield, Westmanland, Woodland.

LaNiece Sirois, the new executive director for the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce in Presque Isle, is looking to forge connections between chamber members as part of a strategy to promote workforce and economic development in the region.

Sirois started her new position Jan. 7. Her predecessor was Theresa Fowler, who held the position for 10 years but suddenly left that post in July 2018.

Sirois came to the position after two years as workforce coordinator for the Northeastern Workforce Development Board in Bangor. Among her accomplishments then, she convened five-county assemblies (Aroostook, Washington, Penobscot, Hancock and Piscataquis) of employers, educators, service providers and other partners to identify employer workforce needs.

Previously she had been a career consultant for the Maine Department of Labor, Presque Isle, where she also owned a human resources consulting business. She also was human resources director for the cities of Presque Isle and Caribou and human resources director for Aroostook Home Health Services in Caribou.

Sirois also owns an Etsy store, MaineSimple, that features her natural products, including a skin care line.

The position had been vacant five months, when she came onboard. She credits the chamber's executive assistant, Lisa Wark, for managing operations through that time.

"Lisa did an amazing job holding everything together," she told Mainebiz.

Sirois said that, upon starting the position, it became apparent that many members weren't familiar with what the chamber could offer them, like bulk mailing price discounts and a variety of chamber advertising and promotion options.

"I've spent the past few weeks making a comprehensive list of the chamber's benefits for members, so they understand exactly everything they can take advantage of," she said.

As part of that, she said, she plans to create an additional tier in the chamber's member fee schedule that's economical for micro businesses.

"Home businesses are becoming popular with all elegant products that are all natural products, wood crafts, crafts of all shapes and sizes," she said. "They spend time at craft fairs trying to make their products known with little other way beyond Facebook to market."

She said she's been reaching out directly to chamber members by visiting as many as possible.

"Each business is part of one large organization, but each business plays an individual role," she said. "We should be honoring that as a chamber."

'Mondays with the Chamber'

Courtesy / Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce
Courtesy / Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce
Chamber Director LaNiece Sirois, left, visitsTim and Sandy McCabe at their Bunker Inn in Limestone.

As part of that effort, she started a program she calls "Mondays with the Chamber."

"Every Monday afternoon, Lisa and I pick a business and we visit them," she said. "We take pictures, shake hands, talk about their business — things that people here don't know if they're not regular customers, but need to know. We post that on Facebook to give the business a boost."

The overall goal, she said, is to boost economic and workforce development.

"Each community needs to know what other communities are doing, so they can work with each other," she said. "We're rural, but rural shouldn't be defined as isolated. I think we need to change that mindset."

Planning for the future, Sirois said she's looking at funding mechanisms to bring in another staffer to enhance the chamber's social media presence and create promotional pieces aimed at increasing tourism. Other goals include establishing more information kiosks and enhancing efficiencies in chamber events, like ticketing online rather than through the mail. Top issues to tackle, she said, include workforce development and health care.

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