AUGUSTA — Bringing a new utility into an area where it wasn’t available, Summit Natural Gas of Maine officials were surprised Wednesday to have many workers with natural gas experience show up to their job fair.
Hundreds of potential workers sought the 45 jobs Colorado-based Summit has available in Maine as part of its effort to build a $350 million natural gas pipeline project running from Augusta to Madison.
Many of those job-seekers have worked in the gas pipeline industry previously, according to Michael Duguay, director of business development for Summit.
“It has been incredible, the quality and experience we’re seeing,” Duguay said as the job fair ended Wednesday afternoon at the Senator Inn & Spa. “We’ve gotten a lot of people with direct experience in the industry. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of people from Maine originally who went out of state to work (in the pipeline industry) who are now looking to come back.”
Job-seeker Tina Soucie, of Belgrade, hasn’t worked in the gas pipeline business before. As the owner of her own communications business, the Maine Lobbyist Service, Soucie said her area of expertise is “people skills.”
She said she came to the job fair because she’d heard about it from a state representative and decided, “I’m looking to switch up my career.”
Soucie, who also owns A-1 Driving School with her husband, Glen, said her three children have grown up and “they’ve moved on with their own lives. Now it’s my time for a change. I’m taking my time and looking for the right fit.”
She said Summit seemed to be a nice place to work and she likes the fact that the company is bringing jobs, growth and a cheaper form of heating fuel to Maine.
Summit is one of two companies — Maine Natural Gas is the other — competing to bring natural gas to the Kennebec Valley. Maine Natural Gas, owned by Iberdrola USA, which is also the parent company of Central Maine Power Co., already has begun laying pipe in the Augusta area.
Summit plans to start pipeline construction May 1.
About 435 construction jobs installing the pipeline will be filled by contractors working on the $350 million project for Summit. The contractors, Duguay said, will hire workers for those jobs, not Summit.
Summit recently came under fire from Gov. Paul LePage for signing what the governor described as a project labor agreement, which the governor claimed would favor unions and discriminate against most Maine construction workers. Summit officials said LePage mischaracterized the agreement and said it’s only for the steel portion of their pipeline project, which they said is the smaller of two pieces.
Duguay said the company required contractors to abide by the National Pipeline Agreements to work on the steel portion of their pipeline project, which he said sets standards and conditions for workplace safety and other standards firms must meet to qualify to work on the Summit project. He said non-union firms can still bid on the project, as long as they meet those standards.
Applicants who fill the 45 jobs that were the focus of the job fair will be working directly for Summit in permanent positions at the company in Maine. Those jobs include residential and commercial sales representatives, administrative assistants, natural gas technicians, steel and distribution pipeline project managers, steel and distribution system inspectors and management positions in marketing engineering, safety, regulations and gas operations.
Duguay, who previously worked for several years as the city of Augusta’s development director, was Summit’s first hire in Maine.
He said the company’s Maine headquarters will be in Augusta. The company is looking for office space because its temporary quarters at 45 Memorial Drive in Augusta doesn’t have enough space to accommodate the planned full staff.
Summit also will have district offices north and south of Augusta, he said.
While declining to provide specific numbers, Duguay said the jobs will pay well and come with good benefits.
“We’ll not only be competitive, we’ll be at that higher level,” Duguay said of the jobs’ pay. “We’re looking for the best people to join our team.”
John, a Lisbon Falls resident who declined to give his last name, said at Wednesday’s job fair that he used to work in sales and marketing but has been unemployed since August 2011.
The 53-year-old, who is also studying sociology at the University of Southern Maine, said he saw the job fair as an opportunity to secure a management or marketing position with Summit.
He said being out of work has been frustrating, and he never thought when he lost his job that it would take this long to find new work.
“I’m doing everything I can to find work,” he said. “You wake up every morning wondering if an opportunity is going to be there.”
Keith Edwards — 621-5647