BV Chamber 42nd annual meeting a virtual tour de forceDec 18, 2020 10:56AM ● By Rod Lee
Resilient in the face of a global pandemic, the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce proved over the course of its seventy one-minute 42nd Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony on November 19 that if a physical gathering isn’t possible right now—remote can work just fine.
Not only was the computerized version of the event a triumph for Chamber President Jeannie Hebert and her staff, it was a chance for honored individuals and businesses to enjoy their moment in the spotlight.
The Chamber itself took a deserved bow: in his welcoming remarks, Chamber Board Chair Joshua Lee Smith, an attorney and partner with Bowditch & Dewey, noted that “three days before our sold-out Expo” in March, the popular showcase at Northbridge High School “was shut down” by COVID-19. Instead of caving to despair, the Chamber quickly shifted gears in an effort to continue support of its membership during a crisis. By providing daily e-blasts, by using 3D printers to create face shields, by transitioning all of its programs to digital, and by facilitating SBA grants to businesses in need “while we were not eligible ourselves”—for instance—the Chamber stayed true to its mission, Mr. Smith said.
The Chamber has also developed a new partnership with Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis’ office to help qualified inmates from the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction obtain the training that is required of them for re-entry into the workforce. “I have seen first-hand” how important the Chamber is to the vitality of region, the sheriff said in his videotaped message.
The key role the Blackstone Valley Education Hub at the Linwood Mill (where the Chamber is headquartered) is playing in workforce development resulted in recognition of the Hub with the Chamber’s Community Leadership Award. In his praise of the Hub, State Sen. Michael Moore of Millbury (whose commendations mirrored those of Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito) noted that Hub instructors collaborated with the Grafton Job Corps to get learners ready for “over 90% of jobs that are waiting” for them.
For his part as an addendum to Mr. Moore’s comments, State Rep. David Muradian applauded the Chamber for “quickly constructing and distributing 20,000 face shields.” Mr. Muradian said he was proud to be part of this initiative.
The celebratory tone of the meeting was set long before Keynote Speaker Maj. Gen. Thomas E. Murphy, who is director of the Critical Technology Task Force for the Department of Defense and a hometown boy (he grew up in nearby Oxford), issued stark warnings about the threat posed to America by several foreign powers, especially China.
Maj. Gen. Murphy’s sobering message on the importance of strong cybersecurity followed recognition of persons and firms that either have deep and strong roots in the Valley—or are setting down ones of their own for the first time. A brief, separate Q&A with Maj. Gen. Murphy followed the close of the meeting.
Those entities that have had a longtime presence in the Valley as noted during the meeting include Whitinsville-based UniBank, a presenting sponsor of the meeting, which is marking one hundred fifty years of service to the community in 2020, CEO Michael Welch pointed out; Whittier Farms in Sutton, which is observing seventy-five years and is now a fifth-generation family business; and Riverdale Mills Corporation in Northbridge, whose Jim Knott Jr. received the John McArthur Community Service Award from Andrea Jung of Venly Inc. for RMC’s forty years and for being “a role model for sustained growth and a pioneer in hiring Education Hub students,” Ms. Jung said. She and Mr. Knott have known each other since their school days in Wellesley.
Vice Adm. David Brewer (Ret.), Venly’s co-chair for training, lauded Riverdale Mills Corp. for the company’s “pacesetting approach.” Paul Horn, Venly’s executive chair, touted RMC for “growing your market leadership beyond the fishing industry.”
A highlight of the meeting at the outset was presentation of the Gerry Gaudette Extra Mile Award to Tim Hare of Harbro Auto Sales by Mr. Gaudette’s son Lee Gaudette of Gaudette Insurance. Mr. Hare and his brother David Hare established Harbro in 1973 where Crothers Tire is now located on Linwood Avenue and rapidly grew the dealership. It now commands a significant slice of real estate and a large inventory on Providence Road.
“My first job was working for Tim at his bike shop in