There’s a new face at the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce
DOVER-FOXCROFT — It has been over five years since Denise Buzzelli became the executive director of the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce. At that time, the chamber had 148 businesses on the membership listing, and had been without a director for many weeks. Buzzelli came into a situation that was somewhat disorganized, and found that many of the members were uncertain of the benefits associated with their membership, questioning the value of the relationship.
Buzzelli explains, “My first order of business was to set things in order at the visitor center from an administrative perspective, to comb through the member-files to determine who was active and who was not. Next, I traveled through the county, meeting with current members to determine what their immediate needs were, and hear their perspective regarding our chamber’s performance.”
It was during these meetings that she gained an understanding of what type of support the businesses truly needed and in what aspects the chamber had not met their expectations. She explains, “These meetings were invaluable. The feedback was meaningful and constructive, and it was through these conversations that our board of directors worked with me to determine what our goals as a chamber should be, eventually leading to the restructuring of our member-benefits.”
During this restructure the board made a decision to cease all fundraising, apart from the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival, so that the chamber would not be in competition with the county’s other non-profits; this move would also alleviate an additional burden on the members who truly want to support all non-profits in the county. Instead, the Chamber began to offer other advertising opportunities to bring in additional non-dues revenue, giving members valuable promotion in exchange for their additional investment.
During Buzzelli’s second year a new program was introduced, the “Junior Chamber of Commerce” for high school students focusing on building relationships between the current business community and emerging leaders at the high school level with the ultimate goal of exposing young adults to the possibility of building their lives and futures here by learning about the successes of current members. “I would never ask a student to stay here for minimum-wage positions,” Buzzelli explains, “but there are great opportunities to grow within established businesses here, or to start your own business, and we want to show these students that it is not only possible, but it is happening all around us.”
Over the past five years, Buzzelli also built strong relationships with news and media organizations, some of which had not provided coverage in this part of the region, asking them to send reporters and cameras to Piscataquis County more often, covering stories which highlight everything from recreational activities, community events, new business openings, and more. “Promoting Piscataquis County has become a top priority for our chamber;” she said, “we understand the overall economic impact of bringing people to this region to visit, vacation, and ultimately live and raise a family.”
More recently Buzzelli has become more involved with advocacy for members, keeping her eye on legislative bills that impact small businesses in rural Maine, notifying business owners about these bills and working with her local representatives to give a voice to concerned members who do not have the ability to head down to Augusta to do the work themselves. “We are not a political organization,” she said. “We do not lobby. But I believe it is our responsibility to educate and notify our business leaders what’s coming so they can voice their concerns and protect their futures.”
These are only a handful of the changes that have taken place at the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce, changes that have been welcomed and appreciated by its members. Today membership consists of over 250 businesses throughout the greater Piscataquis Area, with some out-of-county and out-of-state members who do business here frequently. “I am grateful for the growth we have experienced,” explains Buzzelli, “I think our members know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we exist for them; for their success and their growth, and I think they are happy, and even proud to be a part of the chamber family.”
Growing to this level, however, created some unique challenges for Buzzelli, who began to feel as if she could not maintain the level of support her members had come to expect. She was feeling stretched more often than not, and was fearing burnout, “We have always been a small, rural chamber, and running the organization with an executive director, alone, was feasible; but our added benefits, coupled with the addition of over 100 new members, requires more time, more travel and more work than one person can sustain successfully.”
Two years ago, Buzzelli received permission from her board to hire an intern during the busy summer months, specifically in preparation for the Whoopie Pie Festival and the creation and publication of the Piscataquis Regional Guidebook, both of which require months of planning. This support was invaluable for Buzzelli, but her mission was to bring the Chamber to a point where a more permanent, part-time position could be worked into the budget.
“We are at a pivotal point as an organization,” Buzzelli explains, “in order to continue growth, I need to be outside the doors of the visitor center meeting face to face with business owners that need our support, and in order for me to be out there, we need someone qualified to manage the visitor center in my absence and to handle some of the administrative busy-work that keeps me tied to my desk.”
Finally, at the close of 2018 and during the structuring of the Chamber’s 2019 budget, it was determined that with a certain increase in membership growth, a part-time position could be filled beginning in March of 2019. The posting for “Visitor Center Supervisor” was placed on Indeed in early February and removed just a few weeks later due to the tremendous response, with 37 applicants vying for the position. From the larger pool, Buzzelli narrowed down to 10, had seven interviews and chose one candidate.
“This position is unique,” Buzzelli said, “I was searching for a very specific type of individual, someone proficient in computer skills and social media platforms, someone personable and friendly; great with people, organized and reliable, yet creative. I was looking for someone I felt could really grow with this organization. A bonus would be that he/she would be from this area – which is so helpful when a tourist comes through and wants to know how to get to various areas of the county.” Smiling, Buzzelli said, “I found that person!”
Enter: Abby Moore. “There were qualified applicants with great job experience and stability, with management or marketing backgrounds; but Abby stood out to me; she was well-rounded and capable in every area specific to the job, [she is] a local who loves this area and knows everything about it; she demonstrated her amazing personality in the first five minutes of our conversation, and I knew she had the right temperament for the job,” said Buzzelli.
Moore, a graduate of Foxcroft Academy, resident of Dover-Foxcroft and married mother of two, had been commuting to Bangor to work the night shift and was ready for a change, “I chose to apply for the VCS position at the Chamber because I really wanted to get back into working in the Piscataquis region”, she explains, “for the last two years, I have been working for Eastern Maine Medical Center; I enjoyed that greatly, but really missed working within the community I have grown up in and adored.”
Moore recently completed her first week as Visitor Center supervisor, already proving that she was the right choice for the job. Buzzelli explains, “I had out-of-town commitments this week and needed to leave Abby to run things with very little training during her first week. She successfully worked on a project and handled visitor center traffic perfectly, and I was profoundly grateful to have someone capable and trustworthy holding down the fort while I was away.”
Just as Buzzelli considers Moore the “perfect fit” for this position, it appears the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce might very well be the perfect fit for her as well. “I love being able to interact with and meet new people, and I really thrive in an environment where I’m able to do so,” Moore said, “I look forward to working and learning alongside Denise in this new role, and can’t wait to learn even more about the wonderful place I call home, as well as all that the Chamber is doing for the county.”