PORTLAND — Hundreds of job seekers mingled with hiring representatives from dozens of companies Tuesday at a job fair at the Italian Heritage Center.

Inside the convention room, people with work experience in a variety of fields chatted and exchanged business cards with staffers from 45 companies.

Among the employers with booths were insurance companies such as Liberty Mutual, New York Life, AAA and Combined Insurance.

L.L. Bean was present, as were health care companies such as Spectrum Medical Group of Portland, which was recruiting candidates for an information technology programming job.

“We’ve had a few IT folks come through that fit what we are looking for,” said Christine Walsh, a senior recruiter for Spectrum Medical Group.

The job fair, sponsored by the Maine Sunday Telegram and Monster.com, drew 350 job seekers between 10 a.m. and noon. Some of them — many age 60 or older — were disappointed at the lack of open jobs in their fields.

“(The job fair) seemed to be more designed for sales and health care services,” said Connie Densmore of Yarmouth, who was searching for a bookkeeping job.

“I haven’t had a lot of luck at the job fair. “(The jobs here) didn’t apply to me,” said Carney Howell, 62, of Kennebunk.

Howell, who was laid off five years ago from an IT job in Portsmouth, N.H., said his search has been long and disheartening. He said he submits his resume to companies frequently, but seldom hears back.

“I’m getting to the point of, ‘Why bother?’” Howell said.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who attended the event, said the number of job seekers at the fair “underscores the dimension of unemployment problems” and some Mainers’ struggles to find full-time jobs.

The unemployment rate in Maine was 7.5 percent in January, unchanged since December 2010, according to the latest available data from the Maine Department of Labor. The national unemployment rate in February was 8.9 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Stanley Chwalek, market director for Combined Insurance, said he thinks the economy is in better shape than many people assume.

Chwalek, whose company is hiring sales people throughout southern Maine, said the number of companies at the fair indicated that jobs are available.

Even people who turned up no leads at the fair said they were glad they came.

“This gets you to talk to people and see what the rest of the world is doing,” Densmore said as she walked to her car.

Dick Walron, a former self-employed real estate investor and developer from Parsonsfield, said such job fairs help him plan his next career step.

“It’s part of the process of trying to figure it out,” he said.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:
[email protected]