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October 19, 2011 | last updated December 2, 2011 5:28 pm

Amid declining membership, TechMaine dissolves

TechMaine, the statewide trade association for technology companies, is disbanding after nearly two decades advocating for the industry.

"There are a lot of economic challenges out there in the community," Stephen Hand, president of TechMaine's board and president and CEO of Know Technology, told Mainebiz yesterday. "A lot of the small companies that were our members and provided revenue for the organization aren't there anymore." TechMaine is dissolving with a total membership of about 135, down 20% in the last couple of years.

Effective immediately, the decision comes after close scrutiny by the board of the association's financial position, including a determination that a member-funded model was unsustainable, according to a statement. At the same time, "What the business community is looking for has morphed," Hand says. While TechMaine was founded in 1992 as the Maine Software Developers Association, an end-user organization serving IT companies, the industry now seeks broader representation, he says.

TechMaine is closing a mere three months after welcoming a new executive director, John Spritz, the organization's sole employee. "It just proved to be, to use the cliché 'in these economic times,' a more complicated challenge financially to make this organization work," he says. Smaller companies have struggled to support the nonprofit amid financial constraints, Spritz says. In a July interview with Mainebiz, he said membership fell off during the recession, from 230 in 2008.

Spritz, the former marketing director at Walch Education in Portland, is exploring new opportunities, though not necessarily specific to the tech sector. "It may well be that there's a role for me in helping to articulate and move forward on issues around job growth in Maine," he says.

After years of offering professional development, networking and advocacy services to the sector, TechMaine moved out of its offices on Main Street in Westbrook in the summer of 2010. It planned to relocate to Portland, but never did, and cancelled its annual meeting this year, typically held in December.

Spritz says he was unaware of any financial troubles at TechMaine upon taking the helm. Longtime former executive director Joe Kumiszcza says the organization was fiscally sound when he stepped down after 13 years as its leader. "With the lack of communication that was coming out of the organization, it's kind of easy to understand why the members were getting a little distant," he says.

Kumiszcza says he's unsure which businesses would account for a revenue drop, as TechMaine's major sponsors have remained on board as members. Sponsorship of the annual awards gala, at which he was honored, appeared low, while the annual meeting typically served as a major source of funding, he says. Sponsorship and event revenue represented two-thirds of the organization's budget during his tenure, with dues accounting for another third, he says. "I haven't seen much come out in the way of new events and new programming," Kumiszcza says.

He's most worried about the industry's loss of a voice in Augusta. "It is going to have a tremendous hit on legislative activity, to make sure the right proposals can move forward," he says. Earlier this year, Kumiszcza oversaw TechMaine's lobbying efforts to protect its members, many of them independent contractors, from state and federal crackdowns on worker misclassification.

But board chair Hand says he's confident a new tech trade group will emerge, possibly from the former ranks of TechMaine, though with a different vision for supporting the industry. Spritz agrees that a new voice for the sector will take shape. "I suspect the tech industry in Maine wants and needs a way to express itself," he says. "Right now, it's not TechMaine."

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Oct. 18 edition of Portlandbiz.

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