AUGUSTA — On Friday, the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce will celebrate the efforts of its members and its own nine decadeslong history in the state’s capital city.
After last year’s virtual event, the Kenney Awards returns to an in-person format in Mill Park on Augusta’s waterfront and will be capped with fireworks.
Though some award winners have previously been announced, attendees will use text voting to select two final honorees.
The event will be catered by local restaurants.
This year, the chamber is honoring Charles “Wick” Johnson with the Peter G. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award.
For years, Johnson, who is chairman of the board at Kennebec Technologies, has invested his time in building both his company and the community, taking part in a wide rage of community initiatives since the mid-1980s.
“I really respect Augusta,” Johnson said this week. “This is an amazingly successful community, and it doesn’t receive the credit for the work that has been done in the community over the last 30 years.”
That work has included the third bridge across the Kennebec River, the new MaineGeneral hospital and Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care, new Cony High School, the Children’s Center, the revitalization of downtown Augusta and the new Augusta police station that’s now in the works.
“Augusta is a city that does things from the bottom up, does them well and does them with consensus,” he said.
For Johnson, civic engagement for business has been a priority and governed his thinking when he was contemplating his retirement from the company he helped build. Rather than sell it to an outsider, he converted the company to an employee stock ownership plan, helping to preserve in Augusta the team and enterprise built there and making it more resilient.
“It matters that businesses be full citizens in communities and not just outposts,” he said, noting that a number of other locally owned companies, like G&E Roofing, J.S. McCarthy Printers and Kennebec Savings Bank, have been solid corporate citizens.
Augusta has many attributes that are commonly taken for granted, he said, including the quality of life, the easy access to clean spaces and the number of younger people who are active in the community.
“Augusta is a very strong, emerging, developing younger community, and it’s a tribute to the community,” he said.
In addition to the Lifetime Achievement Award, the chamber has announced recipients for four other awards.
Smart Eye Care, with locations in Augusta, Farmingdale and Bangor, has been named Large Business of the Year. The company, established in 1990, provides primary, emergency and pediatric eye care and provides evaluation of cataracts and macular degeneration, treatment for glaucoma and dry eye and provides specialty contact lenses.
KV Tooling Systems, an Augusta-based company that creates tools for specific uses and sharpens tools, was named Small Business of the Year.
The Kennebec Valley YMCA was honored with the Special Service Award.
Dave Dostie has been announced as the Community Service Award recipient.
Dostie, a full-time state employee, is also a photographer who chronicles events in and around the capital region. While he is often seen with his camera at events, he had never been to a Kenney Awards and volunteered to photograph it this year. Dostie said he learned of the award when he went to a meeting with chamber staff to discuss how the event would unfold.
“It was an absolute shock,” he said.
As a photographer, he covers events that he’s heard about and photographs sunrises and sunsets all over town.
“This is my way to celebrate the area and highlight the things that are going on here,” he said. “I really didn’t see it as community service or giving back to the community. It’s something I’m passionate about. It’s fun to document things that are happening around town and throughout the Kennebec Valley.”
He said he has struggled finding a way to contribute to his community and never thought photography would be that contribution. Knowing that people value that is rewarding.
The recipients of the Cynergy Professional and President’s Circle awards will be determined by live text voting and announced at Friday’s banquet.
Victoria Abbot, Johnny Swan and Hillary Roberts have been nominated for the Cynergy Professional Award, which honors leaders between the ages of 21 and 40.
Abbot is executive director at Bread of Life Ministries, which operates two homeless shelters, a soup kitchen, dozens of apartments and offers a benevolence fund and case management. She has also worked for Spectrum Generations and has raised funds for breast cancer research, among other things.
“It’s a piece of the community that makes it a whole community,” she said of Bread of Life. “Who are we as a community if we don’t help everybody? It’s well-rounded. You have your soup kitchen, you have your high-end donor events. It’s all part of making your community your community.”
But her service to her community extends beyond that as she currently serves as president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance.
Swan, currently a real estate agent with Brookewood Realty, said he likes to lend a hand when needed, but he’s not the type of person who seeks the limelight.
“It’s a huge honor to be recognized among some of the most distinguished and successful people in our community,” Swan said.
“When I got into real estate in 2018, I quickly learned the importance of getting involved in the community and bettering the community by volunteering and giving back,” said Swan, who has also served on the Kennebec Valley Board of Realtors. “And when you help others, it can help you down the road. What you put in is what you get out, and my job has allowed me to be involved.”
Both through his work and as a part of Cynergy, a division of the chamber of commerce, he’s been able to take part in a number of activities, including putting on panel discussions, helping with roadside cleanup, collecting for a diaper drive and helping to clear a park of invasive weeds.
Roberts is the executive director of the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, where she has worked for more than a decade. The organization is on the verge of choosing a contractor for a new facility on Leighton Road.
The Humane Society has been a member of the Chamber of Commerce for decades, which is important because the organization wants to be part of and connected to the business community.
“We want to make sure we’re talking to leaders and stakeholders and representing our organization as best we can,” Roberts said. “I so appreciate what (the chamber) does and I love the direction they are heading in now, it’s a modern, hopeful take on the work that they’ll continue to do.”
Earlier this year, she was invited to speak at the chamber’s Women’s Luncheon Series, where she got to talk about her work, her career and how the community has shaped her.
Roberts said it’s important for nonprofit leaders to connect with the business community, to elevate their own organizations and to stay in touch with what’s going on.
This year, the finalists for the President’s Choice Award are Elliot Office Products, Gardiner Family Chiropractic and Mid Maine Generator.
At Elliott Office Products, Jamie and CJ Elliott have grown into the business and have helped to grow the local printing company.
“One easy way to say it is everything printing under one roof,” Jamie Elliott said. “If you are a business, we can help you with your business logo, business cards, lettering up your vehicle, getting you T-shirts and sweatshirts for your employees to wear. We can do certificates, and do awards for you. Signage for your field. That’s what people don’t realize.”
The family company started in Gardiner in the 1980s as a Ricoh dealership, with CJ Elliott growing up in the business working for his parents.
The business expanded when the company acquired a machine to create banners and signage and started using it for T-shirt and vinyl printing. That’s when Jamie, then a manager at The GAP, volunteered to join the sales force to sell the service.
“I got here, and there was no time to sell to businesses; I was needed in here,” she said. “It was crazy, it’s just taken off.”
Elliott said she thinks word has been spreading about their “pretty cool little family story” and the growth the company has experienced, going from a leased space to a purchased space in Farmingdale.
“I think we’re going to run out of space, so we’re going to have to get a plan to add on,” she said.
At Gardiner Family Chiropractic, Dr. Jennifer Johnson said the wellness-based practice is focused on helping people attain their maximum function, whatever it might be.
“We’re very lucky in that a lot of our patients have been with us a long time,” Johnson said, noting that the business has been in operation since 1989.
Johnson and Dr. Richard Knipping co-own the business.
As longtime members of the community, the practice has built relationships with organizations across the area, including the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center and Boys & Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley and has donated to support athletic teams and yearbooks.
“We think it’s really important to be a part of the community because it’s not enough to have a business here. You have to get a sense of the people, who they are and how they live,” she said. “A lot of people who were born in this area stay in this area, and there are a lot of very important connections between people, and we really want to be a part of that.”
When Chris Moulton started working at Kaplan Electric, it was an electrical business founded in 1984 by the Kaplan brothers to serve the Kennebec Valley region. About 10 years ago, the company started installing stand-by generators, and not long after, Moulton — who had worked there for years already — and his partner James White became owners along with the Kaplans.
“We went from being an electrical company that installed a couple of generators a year to being the second-largest residential Kohler dealer in the country,” Moulton said of the business, Mid Maine Generator.
From the company’s office in Winthrop and secondary location in Wiscasset, the company has become the largest Kohler dealer in New England.
“Everyone is very reliant on power,” he said. “Generators always used to be kind of a luxury, and now they are becoming pretty much a necessity for most people. We have put all of our eggs in one basket and we take a lot of pride in what we do.”