Nearly 200 people gathered at the Portland Expo on Wednesday evening for the chance to shoot some hoops, have a beer and catch up with associates at the Business After Hours with the Maine Red Claws, hosted by the Portland Regional Chamber.

“I’ve been coming to these events for over three years now,” said Mark Sandler of Scarborough, who works in commercial real estate for The Dunham Group. “In my business, it’s about building relationships. This is a great way to meet people. I’ve built business and made many friends by coming to these things.”

Chris Hall, Portland Regional Chamber’s interim CEO and Bill Ryan Jr., Maine Red Claw’s chairman, stood courtside and offered a brief welcome to guests. The mood was jovial and spirited, despite the driving rains outside. It’s clear that what may have begun as a monthly mandatory meet and greet is now for many a valuable opportunity to catch up with old friends.

One table of feisty revelers clearly adored each other’s company despite working as competitors.

“I like socializing and meeting with people I have things in common with,” said Guy Mitchell, who works for Time Warner Business Class.

His cohort and daytime competitor, Scott Dimick of Gorham, clearly agreed. “A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet,” he said with a twinkle in his eye and drink in hand. Dimick, who works for Fairpoint Communications, is also well known for his monthly magazine show that appears online, “Wicked Good Dad.”

Not to be mistaken for one of the Red Claws due to his towering height, Andrew Woodford, who works for Fairpoint Communications and moonlights as the DJ for the Red Claws, kidded around about working at completely different endeavors.

“I wear many hats,” he said, explaining that he goes by DJ Drew when spinning tunes for the team. “One’s a fedora, and one’s a mullet wig.”

All kidding aside, networking is indeed the name of the game at Business After Hours. It is also the perfect venue to share information and ideas with the broader business community.

“It is important for us to establish the fact that we are a Maine company,” explained Peter Hyszczak, business sales manager with Verizon Wireless. “For instance, we have the number one call center in the United States right here in Bangor, Maine. We want people to understand we are local folks.”

Julie Wright, owner of Soma Massage & Wellness based in South Portland, employs 23 massage therapists and recently expanded with a location in Westbrook. She is an enthusiastic supporter of Business After Hours.

“This has been a great opportunity for visibility and to develop our corporate wellness program,” she explained.

Not everyone who attends Business After Hours is gainfully employed. Kelly Prucnal of The Cedars was chatting with Colleen Coyne about Coyne’s current job search and the challenges this economy has presented along the way.

“It’s tough being unemployed and coming to events like this,” said Prucnal, who makes it a point to say hello to attendees from the Unemployed Professionals Group, also known as UP.

“Whenever you are unemployed, you are at a disadvantage,” explained Coyne, an executive assistant and a member of the Unemployed Professionals Group. “This is a great networking opportunity, all the way around. Whether you are employed or not, you have to be on your game.”

Perhaps Jennifer Cartmell of NL Partners, a strategic marketing agency in Portland, summed it up best.

“We all meet each other, we support each other, we refer each other, we cross-promote, and it’s fun! That’s the most important thing. It’s mixing work and fun.”

For more information on Business After Hours, please contact Portland Regional Chamber at 772.2811 or visit www.portlandregion.com.

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

mlogan@maine.rr.com