January 20. 2013 9:53PM

Littleton chamber celebrates the past year, bright future

Special to the Union Leader

Val Poulsen, second from right, is the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce' s 2013 Citizen of the Year. With Poulsen are Steve Kelley, Elizabeth Poulsen, Dianne Poulsen, Debbie Meddings and Chad Stearns. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX PHOTO)

BRETTON WOODS - The Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated another year of success at its 2013 Dinner Meeting & Business Expo on Jan. 18.

"Very, very challenging, yet rewarding, " is how Alycia Vosinek, president of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce, described the chamber's past year as she welcomed about 200 in the ballroom of the Omni Mount Washington Resort.

The chamber, in turn, was welcomed to the grand hotel by the new managing director, Steve Hilliard, who was raised in nearby Lancaster. Hilliard said that decision to come back with his family to the North Country was made easier by the great vibrancy of Littleton.

During the dinner, a continuous loop of photos played across a big screen in the front of the hall, highlighting last year's annual meeting - then-presidential candidate Jon Huntsmen was the keynote speaker - and the various events the chamber was involved in, from the Jack O'Lanterns on the Ammonoosuc River, to the Littleton Piano Project in downtown, the Christmas Parade on Main Street, and a parade float full of high school kids with a banner that said "Go Crusaders!"

The chamber's executive director, Chad Stearns, further illustrated that can-do community spirit when he told of a maple tree at the community center that needed cutting. Instead of waiting for more formal actions to take care of the tree, Stearns and several others got together and took it down.

"This is the North Country, this is a tree. We do have the technology," he said. "We step up and take care of it."

Stearns highlighted new events in the town, the Littleton Taste, Tunes and Brew Fest, the Harvest Festival, and, new this year, the Littleton Winter Carnival, which will take place Feb. 23.

The idea, Stearns said, is "to put Littleton on the map."

The Student of the Year award went to Littleton High School senior Patrick Hampson.

Steve Kelley, introduced the Citizen of the Year, Val Poulsen, whose daughter, Elizabeth, surprised him by flying in from Kansas just for the event.

Littleton has the lowest unemployment rate of any North Country region, with a distinct advantage over other northern New Hampshire municipalities when it comes to economic development - it's served by four exits off of Interstate 93. The advantage is further increased by the highway that goes through town, in that just a few miles down the road I-93 hooks up to Interstate 91, which goes down the eastern spine of Vermont, though Massachusetts, Connecticut and the larger metro New York-New Jersey area.

The chamber of commerce and other organizations have worked to maximize that asset, making sure that those who are traveling by on the highway take one of those exists and, in the word of the chamber's mission statement, make Littleton their "destination of choice."