AUGUSTA — Sarah Maffei is looking for help.

The program manager and dog handler at Merrill’s Detector Dog Services staffed a booth at the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Business Expo Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center. Along with the information and giveaways that are commonplace at expo booths, Maffei’s setup also included a red balloon.

The balloon is an indication of one of the changes the Augusta-area business group has brought to its annual business showcase, which brings together chamber members from across the region for a chance to network, find new customers or service providers.

To help businesses across the region connect with potential workers, the chamber opened the doors to the public Wednesday and expanded the annual business event to be a hiring event.

“We’re trying to make it more convenient and easier for our members,” Chamber President Katie Doherty said.

To meet the changing needs of members and employees, she said the expo was also shifted to an earlier time slot. In the past, the event ran from 4 to 7 p.m. But to accommodate work schedules, the event was scheduled from 2 to 6 p.m.

“It used to be if you had a business card, you get in for free,” Doherty said. “Now, if you have a business card or a resume, you get in free.”

The chamber staff also organized a series of presentations that focused on business and hiring topics like resume preparation and interviewing skills. The staff also made it very clear which companies were hiring: Red balloons were tied to the booths of businesses looking for staff.

And to facilitate the hiring process, Doherty said private interview booths were set up for people to use during the event.

Maffei’s goal was to make contacts with businesses in the area and promote the services that Merrill’s Detector Dog Services offers.

“People don’t realize we do bedbug work,” Maffei said. “Bedbug work is probably one of the biggest things in Maine right now that we are focusing on. Businesses don’t realize this is an option for them. They can have dogs come in and do buildings in a short amount of time.”

Merrill’s trains its dogs for explosives and narcotics work, as well as human remains and weapons detection in Maine and elsewhere. The company has done work for government agencies, corporations, and schools and universities.

“A lot of people don’t know dogs can find bedbugs,” she said.

Maffei said the Readfield-based company is looking for a part-time handler and kennel help, and maybe to fill in with bedbug detection work, which is expanding.

Hiring was also on the mind of Jeb Murphy, who was staffing the booth for Crisis and Counseling Inc.

Murphy, the agency’s communications and development manager, said the need for people who can work in the mental health field is great, but it’s not work that everyone can do.

“What we’re hiring for is our crisis stabilization units,” he said, “and that’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“People with behavioral issues and substance issues are in these homes to have support and be monitored. So to find people who want to do this thoughtful but challenging work is sometimes difficult, and find people who can survive in that — it’s important work to do but it’s incredibly difficult,” Murphy added. “We have phenomenal staff that does it, but it takes a special type of person to do it.”

While the agency is well-staffed, he said, it’s always looking for more workers to meet the ongoing demand for care.

“There are wage inconsistencies. There are housing challenges and it’s a difficult position for the right person,” Murphy said. “Once you get past all the other challenges, there’s the stigma of working in mental health.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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