Awards & Milestones
Discover the many milestones and accomplishments of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce
Watch or Scroll through its storied history below:
The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce was officially established through a merger of the several local chambers of commerce and business groups in the region. The roots of the Chamber stretch back to the early 1900s with the formation of the Leominster and Fitchburg Chambers of Commerce.
After a nationwide search, David McKeehan, former Vice President of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce is selected to serve as the first President of the newly formed organization. Local Attorney Elliott Zide served as the first Chair of the Board and the Chamber maintained offices in both Fitchburg and Leominster for the first two years. The merger has proven to be a testament to the concept of “a regional approach to problem-solving.” The resulting regional business organization has taken a prominent position in economic development, government affairs and the implementation of creative solutions for promoting the success of small businesses.
The Chamber launches its longest running event, the Good Morning North Central breakfast series. Over the years, high profile speakers have included Governors, Senators, prominent business and civic leaders, authors and celebrities.
The Chamber establishes the North Central Chamber Foundation as a 501(c)3 non-profit affiliate focused on assisting in the betterment of the region through charitable activities. Funds raised by the Chamber Foundation are utilized primarily for education/workforce development initiatives. Since its founding the Chamber’s foundation has awarded over $1 million so far in scholarships.
The “Commitment for Success” initiative was inaugurated by the Chamber, raising $1.25 Million from area businesses, to enable regional economic development and government affairs programming.
The Chamber publishes the first Guide to North Central Massachusetts as an annual tourism publication to promote the region to visitors. The first guide is black and white and has a limited distribution. Today, the guide is full color, printed seasonally and distributed widely throughout New England and as far away as Canada.
The Chamber establishes the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation as its formal economic development arm and initiated a fixed asset financing program (SBA 504) for area small businesses.
The Chamber developed a workforce training program, coordinating efforts of Mount Wachusett Community College, Monty Tech, and the local machinists’ union, to prepare 100 machinists for the Fitchburg General Electric plant.
The Chamber launches its Community Leadership Institute to help shape leaders in the region. Over 250 business and community leaders have graduated from the program since its inception.
In an effort to be more accessible to its growing membership from throughout the region, the Chamber moves to a new location on Erdman Way in Leominster, easily accessible to Route 2.
The Chamber started the Twin-Cities First Night event, organizing dozens of venues, transportation, and entertainment to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Leominster and Fitchburg. This community-based program, involving hundreds of volunteers, ran annually for almost a decade.
The North Central Massachusetts Chamber secured another $1 Million from area businesses for economic development programming and launched the “Blueprint for the 90s”– a community and business-based planning effort that served as a roadmap for driving economic development efforts over the last twenty five years and led to the creation of many of the economic assets that have helped to shape the regions’ economy.
The Chamber holds the first of several MassPlastics Trade Shows to showcase area companies and demonstrate the region’s history and strength in the plastics industry. These highly successful events grew to 100,000 square feet of exhibition space and were the only manufacturing-specific trade shows held by any local chamber of commerce in the country.
The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation establishes its first micro-loan program to assist start-up businesses, which is capitalized through a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and matching funds from the Chamber. Since its inception, the NCMDC has gone on to lend out over $10 million dollars, which has been leveraged by $24 million in bank capital and has resulted in over 1,000 new jobs. The average loan is just $25,000.
The Chamber leads a regional effort to support redevelopment of Fort Devens, including active participation in the creation of a redevelopment plan and supporting passage of a $200 million bond to implement the plan.
The Chamber establishes the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association as its formal tourism affiliate. JATA, doing business as Visit North Central Massachusetts today, developed and implemented a regional marketing plan to attract visitors and groups to the region. Since its humble beginnings, the organization has grown the economic impact of tourism from virtually nothing to over $185 million dollars in direct spending from visitors.
After ten years of lobbying by the Chamber, the MassHighway Department constructs The Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center on the site of a burned-out Howard Johnson’s Restaurant along Route 2 in Lancaster. The Center’s opening was a product of the Chamber’s economic development master plan launched in 1991 and has become a model for visitor information centers. Approximately 165,000 people visit the center each year.
Anita Raboin, Former President of Appleseed Personnel Services is elected as the first woman Chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.
The Chamber establishes the Executive Women’s Network, today called the Women’s Leadership Connection, to foster success for local women in business.
The Chamber paves the way for the Route 12 Improvement Project. This transportation infrastructure project has been credited with improving the route 12 corridor in Fitchburg and Leominster.
The state officially designates Route 2, from I-495 west through the Town of Orange, as “The Johnny Appleseed Trail”.
The Chamber breaks ground on its new 6,000 square foot building in Fitchburg, near the Leominster line, to serve as its headquarters and as a regional center to support the business community.
The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation is designated as a Community Development Financial Institution by the U.S. Treasury.
The Chamber’s tourism arm, the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association, receives official designation from the state as the Regional Tourism Council for North Central Massachusetts. This designation creates a formal partnership with the state’s tourism office and enables the region to receive its share of matching tourism grants.
The Chamber hosts three familiarization trips to China. Over 200 local businessmen and women participate in the program to establish a better understanding of the country’s growing influence in the world’s economy and explore potential business relationships.
The Chamber supports efforts by the City of Leominster to recruit AIS to the region and advocates for tax incentives for the project. The project helps create hundreds of new jobs and millions in new tax revenue for the city and state.
The Chamber partners with Fidelity Bank to launch the first Economic Forecast Breakfast which highlights the economic outlook for North Central Massachusetts.
Recognizing the importance of a locally focused community college system and concerned about the impact to local businesses and the region, the Chamber leads a statewide coalition of business groups to oppose efforts by the state to usurp control and centralize the state’s fifteen community colleges.
The Chamber’s economic development arm, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, receives state designation as the official Regional Economic Development Organization for North Central Massachusetts.
The Chamber works with local and state officials to help attract Great Wolf Resorts to the region and advocates for tax incentives for the project. The project helps create over 500 jobs for the region and generates millions in new tax revenue for the city and state.
To help local manufacturers reduce their energy costs, the Chamber’s economic development arm creates an innovative program to provide Net-Metering Credits from a local solar field. As of December, 2019, the initiative has produced 10,215,626 kWh of Net Metering Credits to the manufacturers participating in the program. Total value of these credits is $2,217,053 and the collective savings to participants totals $1,884,495.
After a nationwide search, Roy Nascimento is selected to succeed David McKeehan as the President of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber’s economic development affiliate, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, is approved as a micro-loan provider by the U.S Small Business Administration and receives a $500,000 low-interest loan as much needed capital to continue to grow its lending programs.
The Chamber’s economic development affiliate, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, is approved as a micro-loan intermediary by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and establishes its fourth micro-loan fund with an additional infusion of $500,000 in capital.
The Chamber introduces a new logo, symbolizing its continued growth and transformation while being respectful of its history.
The Chamber’s economic development affiliate signs an innovative agreement with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce to provide start-up businesses in the Worcester area with micro-lending resources.
The North Central Massachusetts Chamber is named a finalist for the National Chamber of the Year Award, the first chamber of commerce in Massachusetts or New England to have ever been named a finalist for this prestigious honor.
The Chamber secures $300,000 in pledges from local businesses to establish the Economic Advancement Fund with the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation. The new fund provides resources to expand economic development efforts and continue to advance the North Central economy.
The Chamber’s economic development affiliate signs agreements with the Assabet Valley, North Quabbin and the Greater Gardner Chambers of Commerce to extend its micro-lending resources to start-up businesses in their communities.
The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation is designated as a Community Advantage Lender by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce is awarded 4-star Accreditation from the accrediting board of the United States Chamber of Commerce for its sound policies, effective organizational procedures, and positive impact on the community. Of the approximately 7,000 chambers in the United States, only 204 have earned the recognition as an accredited chamber of commerce.
The Chamber’s economic development arm partners with Fidelity Bank and the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce to establish the Colonial Bank Loan Fund.
The Johnny Appleseed Trail Association rebrands to become Visit North Central Massachusetts, being more encompassing of our wonderful North Central Mass region.
The Chamber plays a leadership role in bringing together business, community, education and media organizations in the region to form the Elect North Central Coalition. The non-partisan coalition’s mission is to make the democratic process accessible and assure that local and regional issues are examined and addressed by candidates running for major statewide and federal office. The coalition hosts its first debate for the Third Congressional District.
The Chamber joins with other business and civic groups to testify in support of the $23 million renovation of the historic Fitchburg City Hall, which had been vacant since 2012 due to structural issues. The renovated City Hall opens in 2020 and becomes an important part of the ongoing economic development of the downtown business district in one of the largest communities in the region.
The Chamber and the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation publish a report entitled “Build North Central: Promoting the Industrial Heart of Massachusetts” with recommendations to support the region’s manufacturing industry and fuel economic advancement throughout the region.
The Chamber celebrates its 35th Anniversary of “Building Businesses, Building Communities”!
In July 2019, local dignitaries and community leaders help the Chamber and its tourism affiliate, Visit North Central Massachusetts, officially unveil the “Big Apple of New England” outside the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center on Route 2 in Lancaster. This giant red apple structure, which stands at 10 feet tall, is the largest apple sculpture of its kind in all of New England. The apple was installed outside the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center to honor the region’s strong agricultural heritage and connection to apples and that icon of American folk history – Johnny Appleseed.
In September 2019, the Chamber rebrands its HYPE group (Helping Young Professionals Emerge) to Young Professionals of North Central Massachusetts. The Chamber also establishes a steering committee to create and establish useful and educational programs for young professionals across North Central Massachusetts.
The Chamber convenes the North Central Massachusetts Education Compact as an outgrowth of the Chamber’s Build North Central: Promoting the Industrial Heart of Massachusetts report published in late 2019. The compact, comprised of leaders in education, business and workforce development, is established to help facilitate partnerships around the shared goals of improving college and career pathways for students.
In a major win for local business and for the economic advancement of the region, the Fitchburg City Council votes to move to a single rate at their annual tax hearing, eliminating the dual tax rate. The Chamber played a major role in advocating for this historic move – both to relieve the tax burden on local businesses and make the city more competitive for future investment. It is a powerful example of the impact that the Chamber can have when it harnesses the collective support of the business community.
The Chamber takes a leadership role in advocating for meaningful education reforms at the state level that align with the needs of employers and better prepare students for the workplace. The Chamber testifies before the legislature regarding the need to ensure every student is exposed to career exploration and workforce readiness programming while in school. The Chamber also joins with other business groups to advocate for greater funding for industry credentialing courses in the state’s high schools.
The Chamber and its economic development arm, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, launch a new localized online jobs board called WorkNorthCentral.com to help connect job seekers to employers in North Central Massachusetts. Visitors can search for employment opportunities located within the twenty-seven communities of North Central Massachusetts. The jobs board starts modestly with just one hundred jobs, but by January 2021 has over 1,200 opportunities posted.
The Chamber releases a new report that provides an in-depth look at the twenty-seven communities that comprise North Central Massachusetts. The Economic Profile was compiled by a research team at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute and combines detailed economic, labor market and socioeconomic data, as well as analysis on the economic conditions within the region. The Chamber commissioned the research to support economic development efforts and serve as a resource for local businesses. You can read the full report here.
Recognizing that much has changed since the Blueprint for the Nineties was developed and the major impact it had in advancing the regional economy, the Chamber begins a major new economic development planning process. The Chamber issues a Request for Proposals (RFP) and conducts a nationwide search to select an economic development consulting firm to assist in developing a new multi-faceted and actionable blueprint to guide the region’s economic development efforts over the next 10 to 15 years, providing for sustainable growth. The Chamber also forms a special taskforce of business and community leaders to oversee the development of this regional planning process. Throughout 2020, the Chamber and its consultants host numerous online focus groups, interviews and surveys with various stakeholders to gather input for the plan. The scope of the project also includes a deep dive into the regional economy, including analysis of the real estate market and workforce, a SWOT analysis, benchmarking and more.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020 was an unprecedented crisis that impacted businesses and communities in an immediate and profound way. COVID-19 forced businesses to shut down, limited travel and gatherings, and had a ripple effect that crippled the economy. The Chamber team immediately jumps into action, pivoting to provide leadership, resources, guidance and a strong support system to help businesses and communities adjust and respond. Efforts during those early days of the crisis included establishing an emergency loan program, setting up a dedicated COVID-19 email hotline, launching special promotional efforts to support affected businesses, sharing the latest guidance from local, state and federal authorities, helping secure PPE for front line workers, providing information on available resources and much more.
The Chamber’s tourism affiliate – Visit North Central Massachusetts – pivots its destination marketing efforts immediately towards supporting economic recovery in the region. Within hours of the state issuing an executive order on March 15, 2020 limiting gatherings to 25 people and prohibiting on-premises consumption of food or drink at bars and restaurants, the Chamber and Visit North Central Massachusetts launch a “Take-Out Blitz” to support local restaurants and food businesses. The promotional effort is soon replicated by other business organizations in the state and country in an effort to quickly support small businesses. Always a strong advocate for buying local, the Chamber and its affiliates go on to develop and launch several marketing campaigns during the pandemic to support small businesses and encourage consumers to safely shop, eat and visit locally. The Chamber and VNCM invest in new locally focused content, new messaging, digital advertisements, PR and social media to promote, connect and engage with consumers. “When it Matters Most…Support Local” is used as the overarching theme for the campaigns.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for more capital to help support its lending efforts to businesses negatively impacted, the Chamber and the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation launch a new Economic Recovery Fund. The idea for this new fund came from several financial institutions in the region that approached the Chamber with this concept of a locally supported recovery fund. Berkshire Bank, Fidelity Bank and Digital Federal Credit Union were the founding sponsors of this fund and contributed $100,000 each to help capitalize the recovery effort. In addition, the NCMDC contributed $100,000 of its own money to the new fund. Workers’ Credit Union and Bank of America contributed $10,000 each and bankHometown contributed $5,000. The funds raised were disbursed almost immediately. In an eight-week period following the start of the crisis, the NCMDC loaned out almost $800,000 in emergency loans, with the smallest just $2,700 and the largest $54,000. The recipients were all vulnerable and underserved small businesses, including a bike shop, a gym, hair salons, coffee shops, local restaurants and more that were impacted by the economic disruption from COVID-19.
To help shore up its lending capacity, the NCMDC goes on to secure a $500,000 loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. A grant from Commonwealth of Massachusetts helped support the SBA’s requirement for matching funds for a Loan Loss Reserve.
Recognizing the level of fear and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Chamber introduces a special video for the public on its social media channels titled “A Message for North Central Massachusetts”. The video was intended to send a message of hope, community and resiliency that would help inspire and raise spirits during the economic shutdown and health pandemic. With help from our members, the video premiered just ten days after the Governor announced a public health emergency and instituted restrictions. The video was very successful, being viewed by over 65,000 people in the region, and receiving many positive comments on the tremendous impact it had on the region’s morale.
The Chamber cancels all face to face events, meetings and programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. But recognizing the critical importance for businesses to stay informed and connected, the Chamber makes it a priority to continue delivering relevant programming to members – hosting over one hundred different online programs during the year to help inform, educate and connect members and communities. The programs range from free educational webinars on how to take advantage of relief efforts to monthly “Live Chats” with the Mayors of Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner. Prominent speakers hosted on Chamber programs during the pandemic included the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, the region’s legislative delegation, federal officials, economists, thought leaders and more.
The Chamber’s economic development arm, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, is awarded a grant of $946,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration under the CARES Act to establish a new revolving loan fund to assist with economic recovery in the region. The NCMDC structures this new loan program to provide loans of up to $150,000 with very flexible terms, low fees and interest rates as low as 1% for existing businesses impacted by COVID-19 and 5% for start-up businesses. Monthly payments are also deferred for up to one year on the loans to assist with business recovery.
The Chamber is recognized as a finalist again for the prestigious National Chamber of the Year Award by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) in recognition of its operations and impact in the community.
As an outgrowth of the One North Central plan, the Chamber hosts this regional hiring event to connect job seekers with employers in the region. While the Chamber has hosted a variety of job fairs and related programs in the past, this new annual event expands the concept to include multiple resource partners, educational programing and direct onsite career counseling.
The Chamber launches a new podcast series called Inside North Central Massachusetts as a new communications channel to engage and inform businesses and the community at large. The podcast series focuses on the people and issues affecting the communities in North Central Massachusetts.
The Chamber partners with several community groups and the Cities of Fitchburg and Leominster to launch a new effort to engage and support the Latinx community in North Central Massachusetts. Latinos comprise the largest minority group in the region and are playing an important role in contributing to the economy, including starting businesses at three times the rate of the general population. However, research found that Latinos and other minorities were less likely to take advantage of available resources within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, as well as established business networks like the Chamber that are so vital to achieving success in business. As part of the initiative, which also had its roots in the One North Central Plan, the Chamber provides direct multi-lingual technical assistance, access to PPP loans through local banks, micro-loans and grants and hosts roundtables to engage and inform Latinx business owners.
The Chamber, in partnership with New Vue Communities, launches a new mini-grant program to support small businesses in the region with their recovery from the pandemic. The program provides $60,000 in small grants ranging from $500 to $5,000 that are used for professional services that help small businesses in the region.
The Chamber’s economic development arm, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, secures over $2.25 million in new federal and state grants to help expand its lending efforts. With this new capital infusion, the NCMDC goes on to provide over $1.75 million in loans in 2021. The average loan amount is just $20,000, the smallest loan is $2,200 and the largest at $150,000.
The Board of the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation votes to increase the maximum size of its loans to $250,000 and expand its loan program to include commercial real estate mortgages. The real estate loans can be used for a first mortgage for purchase, rehab or expansion of an existing structure or a second mortgage with a participating financial institution.
The Chamber’s tourism arm, Visit North Central Massachusetts, renovates the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center on Route 2 in Lancaster, including upgrading the interior; improving security and accessibility; and adding new amenities to improve the experience for visitors and to better showcase the region’s communities, local attractions and businesses.
A North Central Massachusetts team comprised of the Chamber, Mount Wachusett Community College and the Spanish American Center are selected to participate in the Equitable Credential Attainment Cohort program offered through the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The initiative supports communities in building partnerships that allow more workers, and particularly BIPOC workers, to gain the credentials or degrees they need to secure well-paid jobs with career advancement opportunities. The Chamber led team was one of only seven teams selected from throughout the country to participate in this competitive program.