Thanks, Peter. On behalf of our Board of Directors, the entire membership of the Kennebec Valley Chamber, and our 880 guests here tonight, I extend sincere congratulations to our award winners. Thanks also to US Senator Susan Collins for helping celebrate these people and their organizations. I want to thank Dr. Allyson Handley, President of the University of Maine at Augusta for her leadership of this Chamber last year.
It was a year of significant recovery and growth throughout the 22 cities and towns we serve. It was also the Year of the Hospital and the Year of Natural Gas. These two projects alone will be transformational for our region as we work towards a stronger economy and enriched communities. Your Chamber has played a key support role with the hospital and the natural gas companies and many other economic development efforts under way in the region. I continue to be impressed with the number of events and activities our Chamber provides to members and the public to support business growth and community development more than 50 regular networking and educational programs. They include our monthly Business Insider Breakfast Seminars, the monthly Women's Network Luncheon Seminars, the monthly Business-After-Hours receptions, the many events of CYNERGY (our young professional group) and our special Brown Bag Lunch Seminars. In addition we produce several major projects such as the Kennebec Leadership Institute, now entering its 28th consecutive year; The two-week-long Business-sponsored Free Family Fun Whatever Festival, our October Business EXPO and this 37th Annual Awards program, often the largest such event in the State.. I'm particularly proud that this KV Chamber is such a strong proponent of the three big E s. Economy, Education and Environment. Our mission is to enhance life quality by strengthening our regional economy. The Chamber does this in so many ways in projects small and large projects that result in quality jobs for our area and successful business development. The Augusta Micropolitan has a workforce of some 44,000 people. Our unemployment rate is currently at 5.4 percent (Nov-13), compared to the State rate of 6.1 % (Nov-13) and the US rate of 6.6% (Nov-13). The recent recession saw taxable consumer retail sales drop from 900 million dollars to below 850 million. This past year we reached a new high of 933 million a significant recovery. We know our future workforce relies heavily upon the teachers and administrators in our schools from pre-K through high school and upon our Universities and colleges, as well as caring parents and volunteers who all play such a crucial role in the maturing of our young people. The Chamber is committed to participate in and promote education and workforce development initiatives. We continue to boast, rightfully, of Maine s Quality of Place and the great opportunity to work and live in this wonderful environment. For my own workforce at Alternative Manufacturing, it is so nice to go to work at our manufacturing factory on the shores of beautiful Maranacook Lake in Winthrop. The KV Chamber celebrates annually the cleanup of our Kennebec River with the Whatever Family Festival. And we celebrate the many measures our business members have made to further protect our environment. In the awards videos you are about to watch, you'll see many examples of how our honorees exemplify commitment to Economy, Education and Environment. You ll learn some interesting details about our Kennebec neighborhood businesses. You'll see that underlying theme that has been true since this Awards program began 37 years ago that success comes in many colors and flavors. But that it is always predicated upon hard work. Tonight we celebrate hard work, success and the promise that by working together we can continue to build positive growth in this special region of Maine. Again, my best wishes to each of our Award winners.
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