By Evan Lips
DEVENS -- Armed with her resume and a folder full of references, Margarita Garcia approached a table inside a crowded Devens Common Center.
As she waited to speak with Margaret Perras, of Right at Home In-Home Care & Assistance, Garcia had to constantly shift her body from one side to the other to make room for other busy job-seekers like herself.
In front of Garcia was the Right at Home table and quite possibly her future career.
The 26-year-old Leominster resident was one of nearly 1,000 ambitious individuals who descended upon the Nashoba Valley Job Fair on Friday morning.
While that statistic may give the impression of a lingering unemployment problem in the Merrimack Valley and north central regions of the commonwealth, there's another statistic that paints a far brighter picture.
Friday's job fair also attracted more than 60 employers looking to fill more than 1,000 positions.
Groton state Rep. Sheila Harrington recalled how she and other lawmakers met in August to try and come up with a way to connect more residents to jobs. Standing in the lobby of the Common Center, Harrington said she'd heard the stories of hapless job-seekers, the ones who have sent out resume-after-resume without hearing a whisper in response.
"There is something here for every level of skill, every type of employment," she said.
At first the Groton Republican and fellow Reps. Jen Benson, of Lunenburg, and Jim Arciero, of Westford, made some calls and recruited about 25 employers to participate in the job fair. Harrington said it was when she phoned job resource organizations like the Career Center of Lowell and the North Central Career Center in Leominster that things really started to happen.
Sean Rourke, a legal assistant at Harrington's law office who helped organize the event, said table space at the fair quickly ran out after the career centers started spreading the word.
Mike McQuaid, director of the Lowell Career Center, said the response from employers was uplifting, and a sign that there are more jobs out there than people think.
"And having that face-time that comes with a job fair is heartening for the job-seeker," he added.
The businesses attending the fair came from as far west as Holyoke and as far east as Lowell. Greater Lowell businesses included Lowell General Hospital, which is seeking to fill positions ranging from registered nurses to housekeepers, United Parcel Service in Chelmsford and Edward Jones Investments in Westford.
Marshall Tisdale, a financial adviser for the Westford office, said his company is planning an ambitious expansion over the next eight years. It currently has 12,000 financial advisers working throughout the country. The goal for 2020 is to boost that total to 20,000, he said.
Dixie Emond, marketing manager for Visiting Rehab Services of Middlesex County, said in-home occupational therapy workers are at an all-time demand.
"We're out-patient and learning that more and more people want to stay home," she said.
To fill those jobs, Harrington said she and other lawmakers are working with the area's regional technical schools to tailor their curriculum to fit the careers that are the most in demand. Acton state Sen. Jamie Eldridge also attended the fair and said he could feel a "positive vibe" as soon as he entered the conference room.
"People coming here are finding out that the jobs are here," Arciero added.
Andrew Hauk, a 20-year-old continuing education student attending UMass-Lowell, said he's previously worked as part-time package handler for UPS. He has a passion for golf and hopes to someday earn his PGA Tour card but added he knows he'd like to have a backup plan if his dream does not pan out.
On Friday the Dunstable resident attended the job fair and said he's looking to enter either the insurance or finance industries.
"Being around these crowds is intimidating but you got to get out there and give it a try," he said.
Alicia Melo, a human resources recruiter for UPS, said her company is hiring at a quick pace. Employees start out loading and unloading like Hauk did but the upside is the fact that UPS "believes in promoting from within," she said.
Despite currently being unemployed, Garcia said her spirits were lifted at the fair.
"I'm excited to get involved in a career that has so much demand," she said about her drive to become a certified nursing assistant.
Follow Evan Lips at Twitter.com/evanmlips.