Lebanon Chamber of Commerce
100 Years and Still Going Strong
I sat down recently with Paul Boucher, President of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at length about his 17 years at the “helm.” But, the first thing he said was startling! “When I retire in June, I hope the next president has as much passion for the job as I feel I had!” I guess we assumed he would be at the helm for a very long time. However, even though retirement was looming, his heart, mind, and energy were still very enthusiastically engaged with Chamber activities.
First, he wanted us to understand the solid foundation upon which the Chamber had been built and how it remains strong today.
On February 9, 1916, “a public meeting was held in the court room to organize a Chamber of Commerce…” (from Granite State Free Press, Feb. 11, 1916).
On February 23, 1917, the first Annual Meeting of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce was held in the courtroom with 75 members present. Frank U. Bell was the first president.
Paul Boucher was president during 1985-86, the 70th year of the Chamber. He presided over the Annual Meeting at which he commented on much of the history and the people who had been part of it. Many past presidents were at this celebration, among them being Don Ross, Jim Canto, Clark Griffiths, Tom Bascetta, Terri Dudley, Lloyd Bennett and Barry Schuster.
Norris Cotton, a prominent figure who was president of the Chamber from 1940 to 1941, and also a lawyer, became a US Senator in 1946. During his over-50-year membership in the Chamber, much was accomplished. One major event was a Chamber-sponsored reception in the Lower Town Hall honoring him, with more than 600 people attending, including Governor Charles Dale and many other dignitaries. Senator Cotton was made a lifetime member of the Chamber.
In 1946, President George F. Richardson, Jr., worked hard to gain bus service between Lebanon and Enfield, to serve the Mascoma Lake area during the summer resort season. Membership of the Chamber was 204 that year, and dues were either $5 or $10 a year, depending on the size of the business! But Richardson recommended that dues be raised to $25-$30 per year as those in Claremont.
During 1964-1968, there was much trial – and pain – for the Chamber: the fire in 1964, the building of I-89, and much growth, all of which contributed to the challenges of the presidents during that time which included Ben Hirsch, Ken Murphy, Brad Alden, and Gordon Sargent. President Hirsch started the system which overlapped terms for Directors, which is still used.
Another building block laid by President Jim Canto (1978) was that the Chamber must have a fixed office and director to properly serve the community. Canto also hatched the idea of the Home and Trade Show, first held at the Sheraton in West Lebanon.
Paul and his wife Karen came to Lebanon in 1971 from Claremont where he worked at the Indian Head Bank. His association with the Chamber began in 1979 while working at the National Bank of Lebanon (now Citizens) – 37 years ago! He became a member of the Chamber Board and was elected President from 1985-1986.
In 1999, he was elected as the first full-time Director of the Chamber, and after 17 years of constant service, now operates under the title of President and CEO.
I asked Mr. Boucher how the Chamber has managed to last for 100 years. He said, “Continuity and dedicated Directors and Presidents. For example, Matt Brown served for 27 years, and Debbie Carter for 18. Jim Wechsler served for 22 years as Director, and I have now served for 17 years. Only two people in the State have served longer: Tim Sink of Concord’s Chamber with 22 years, and Laura Ring of Rochester Chamber with 33 years.”
Just a few of the many accomplishments that President Boucher has overseen are:
- Established the Leadership of the Upper Valley in 2006. The idea came from the Concord Chamber, when Ron Biron (past president of Lebanon College), Slewinski and Hurst, went through the Leadership Institute of NH (still going), and encouraged Paul to look into it. Biron and Boucher researched how Concord had established theirs and thus it began. There were nine people in the beginning and now the numbers are in the upper 20s. It is now led by Vital Communities. For one full day a month for nine months, people learn about economic development, communications, the arts, government, and more. It encourages people to understand and participate in their local communities… how to join a local board, run for office, or get involved in town government.
- Established an Economic Vitality Commission, made up of the president of the Chamber (now Paul), two directors of the Chamber, the City manager, the Mayor and five business leaders. Its purpose is to open the lines of communication regarding Lebanon’s economic health and growth. The Commission meets for one hour each month.
- Wings & Wheels was the brainchild of Drew Nelson, Chairman of the Board, and Paul. It is a daylong family event held at the Lebanon Airport and showcases airplanes of all vintages and classic cars. Local organizations participate, and there is much entertainment such as a police dog demonstration, display of fire trucks, plane rides, kids’games, food, entertainment, tours of the Airport, and more.
- The Information Booth was established in Colburn Park across from the Library and Post Office. It is open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day and is staffed by volunteers from the Lebanon Senior Center. Members of the Chamber place their brochures and information there for visitors to pick up.
- Lebanon College. Paul served for nine years on the Lebanon College Board. During his five years as Chairman, the College found its permanent home on the Mall when Donald Wenz was President of the College. Note: This spring, a new occupant of the site will be River Valley Community College.
- Since 1964, the Chamber has sponsored awarding a Citizen of the Year and a Business of the Year.
Paul also serves on the Board of the Grafton County Economic Development Council that began in 1997. He is the last of the charter members. The Council provides loans and grant to Lebanon businesses.
In October of 2016, the 100th Annual Meeting will be held and you can bet Paul will have his hand in the planning.
So, when you hear, or ask, the question “What’s in it for me and why should I join the Chamber?”consider all of the following reasons stated by Paul: By joining the Chamber, your business will be:
- Promoted by having our fully staffed office make referrals when people call asking for advice or guidance. Members are also promoted in the monthly newsletter, on the website, Facebook, Business After Hours, networking, social events, and more.
- Educated with forums and workshops at which professionals in many fields are invited to speak.
- Represented by bringing your questions and concerns regarding any issues needing attention as a group to the attention of City Hall.
And, as another service, members are welcome to put their printed materials in the Chamber office for people to pick up.
The Mission of the Greater Lebanon Chamber of Commerce is: “To continually strive to provide a leadership role through the business community in advocating community growth and economic development while improving a balanced quality of life for the Upper Valley.”
“Show me a community with an active Chamber of Commerce, and I’ll show you a progressive community!” stated Frank Hough, President in 1948, and who often closed his meetings with that statement.
Thus spans one hundred years of uninterrupted service for the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce.
The Greater Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce serves Lebanon, West Lebanon, Canaan, Enfield, Plainfield and Meriden, New Hampshire.
You are welcome to stop in and visit the Chamber at 2 South Park Street, The Willis House, on the corner of South Park and School Street in downtown Lebanon.
To learn more about the Chamber and Membership, contact them in any of the following ways: P. O. Box 97, Lebanon, NH 03755 Telephone: (603) 448-1203 Fax: (603) 448-6489.