2014-03-07 / Community

Professionals cultivate networks

By Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Those who walked into the lounge area of J.P. Thornton’s last Friday, Feb. 28, saw an abundance of cheerful faces, full drinks and clusters of mingling professionals. What appeared to be a party amongst old friends was a networking event presented by Think LOCAL! and promoted by the Sentry’s advertisement representative, Cindy Castaline. Attendees came from businesses in all fields in hopes of initiating professional relationships.

Think LOCAL! is a community networking organization with 15 chapters from Portsmouth, N.H., to Bangor. The South Portland chapter meets at J.P. Thornton’s for lunch on Wednesdays. Meetings are led by David Cekutis of Northeast Bank in Portland.

According to the group’s mission statement, the association aims to bring professionals together with the intention of “helping individuals and small businesses grow through effective networking and relationship building.”

“Besides just dropping your cash in the community we sponsor a lot of local nonprofits,” said Jeff Ball, Think LOCAL! executive director.

This month’s featured organization is Keeping Kids Safe, a 501(c)3 that brings awareness to Internet safety. The nonprofit was at the forefront of their March 4 “Business Builder” at Sebago Brewing in Portland.

These large-scale events take place on a monthly basis and feature guest speakers, booths for business promotion and raffles to raise money for the featured organization. Events are generally four or five times the size of Friday evening’s intimate gathering.

According to Ball, Think LOCAL! has helped numerous community members who were out of work. He described a recent situation where a “20-something” woman came to a meeting with her resume, which she passed out to the roughly 20 members of the networking group. Within a couple weeks she was no longer able to attend the meetings because she had started working fulltime. Ball said the position came through one of the group member’s connections.

“Everyone sitting around that table has 200-plus people that their neighbor doesn’t know,” he said.

In a small metropolis like greater Portland, personal relationships are integral to professional success. Dwayne Hopkins, senior loan officer at Primary Residential Mortgage in Scarborough, agrees that networking in a small city leads to closer, “more intimate relationships.”

“You want a person to stand behind the product or service they offer,” Hopkins said. “You really do business based on the people you’re working with.”

Think LOCAL! strives to provide an atmosphere where participants are getting to know each other rather than taking turns giving sales pitches. In many cases business networking groups last only a few months. Members attribute the group’s longterm prosperity to the personal atmosphere at each meeting.

“Jeff has had this thing going for years. He really urges personal relationships forming from professional relationships,” said Matt Vaillancourt, producer at Noyes, Hall, and Allen and Think LOCAL! South Portland member. “Jeff is always pushing and fixing things. It’s big, it’s consistent and that’s what’s important (for the group.)”

To find out how to become involved with any of Think LOCAL!’ s local chapters, go to ThinkLocalCommunityNetworking.org. In addition to South Portland, meetings are held in Kennebunk, Saco, Scarborough, Westbrook, and Portland.

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