ELLSWORTH, Maine — If the parking lot was any indication, with job hunters circling the pavement looking for an elusive vacancy, the Spring Job Fair in Ellsworth on Wednesday was a big success.
“The lot looked a lot bigger when it was empty,” said Paul Ruggiero, a consultant with the Maine Department of Labor’s CareerCenter, which hosted the event. “We’ve had an excellent turnout today.”
The job fair, held at Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 109 on Main Street, was on track to bring in more than 400 job seekers, who would pitch their resumes to 29 employers and six community groups.
Ruggiero said it had been several years since CareerCenter held its Spring Job Fair in Hancock County, but said it was clear that the region had weathered the grueling recession and was poised for a comeback.
“We’re seeing more job seekers, obviously, but we’re also seeing a lot of employers here, so we know jobs are out there,” he said.
One of the largest draws at the event was Maine Fair Trade Lobster, a new company with plans to revitalize the former Stinson Seafood sardine cannery in Prospect Harbor. The processing operation is a joint venture of Maine’s largest live lobster buyer, Garbo Lobster, and East Coast Seafood, a regional lobster distributor.
While initial reports indicate the company will eventually employ about 160, Bill Darling, project manager, said Maine Fair Trade Lobster is looking to immediately fill about 90 positions for the start of the season.
“We’ve had a great response here all morning,” Darling said. “Our online application process has been amazing too. We’ve received more than 100 applications online.”
Jen Reynolds, 27, of Lamoine filled out an application for the lobster processing plant on Wednesday.
Reynolds studied marine biology at the University of Maine, and said she hoped to find a job with Maine Fair Trade Lobster that used her degree. She works part-time in Ellsworth, but said she was looking for a full-time, year-round job — something that can be hard to find in Hancock County’s heavily seasonal job market.
“It makes it difficult in the Bar Harbor area, everything is seasonal,” Reynolds said. “They [Maine Fair Trade Lobster] had a couple positions, like quality control, that interest me.”
According to data from February, the most recent available, Hancock County’s unemployment rolls ranked second-highest in the state at 12.2 percent. The county was second only to Washington, with an unemployment rate of 12.9 percent. (These figures have not been seasonally adjusted.)
Glenn Mills, chief economist at the Center for Workforce Research, part of the Maine Department of Labor, said Hancock County’s unemployment rate swings wildly between summer and winter months.
“Hancock is hyper-seasonal, and there are a huge amount of jobs in the summer and a lot less activity and businesses close in the winter,” he said.
Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has remained flat for nearly a year at 7.3 percent. Mills said that nationally, the unemployment rate has continued falling as more and more people become discouraged and leave the workforce. Those people, who give up their job searches, are not counted on the unemployment rolls.
In Maine, he said, people are still looking for work. So the unemployment rate is higher.
“It’s certainly better than it was in late 2008 or in 2009 when there was so much job loss,” Mills said. “Things really kind of stabilized in 2010, though certain industries were still declining. Now we’re at a point that most industries have at least stabilized and few are growing — education, health care, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality.”
Several companies in the latter industry were present at the job fair. Terri Swanson, human resources director for Witham Family Properties, which operates 13 hotels in the area, said the company has an annual workforce of about 600, of which about 400 are seasonal.
Several students looking for summer jobs approached Swanson for information, but she said it’s not just young people looking to break into the hospitality industry.
“People who may have been out of work for a long time are realizing they’ve got to get a foot in the door,” she said. “People are looking more seriously at their job search, and I think they’re broadening their look.”
Follow Mario Moretto at @riocarmine.