WESTBROOK (AP) – Matt Hoffner plans to make his Internet jobs company big by keeping it small.

That’s not a contradiction. It’s Hoffner’s strategy to take his online help-wanted firm from New England to the rest of the nation, potentially competing head-to-head with the likes of Monster.com.

Hoffner’s company has operated JobsInME.com since 2000, posting jobs that are Maine-specific from mostly Maine companies.

The company last year launched similar state-specific Web sites in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Hoffner now plans to add three to five new states next year and more in the years to come until, he hopes, the country is covered.

Hoffner figures the best way to become a national company is to focus on growth locally. That’s because 90 percent of all job hires occur with local companies hiring local job candidates, he said.

“If you’re looking for a job, you could care less if I have jobs in Idaho or HI or TX,” said Hoffner, who is president of JobsInTheUS.com. “Most likely you’re focusing on the local level.”

Online job boards have been around since the advent of the Internet.

The three largest sites are Monster.com, HotJobs.com and CareerBuilder.com, huge companies that post jobs nationwide.

When JobsInME was launched at the start of 2000, it differentiated itself by focusing on employers and job seekers in a narrow geographic area.

For two years the company was content with a single Internet site, devoted to Maine. Last year it used the JobsInME model to launch JobsInNH.com, JobsInVT.com, JobsInMA.com and JobsInRI.com.

Hoffner said his sites are the top Internet job boards in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, based on number of jobs postings in those states. And the sites are rapidly growing in terms of visitors, number of companies posting jobs, and revenues – which through August were up 61 percent over last year.

The board of directors wants Hoffner to determine whether the success so far is a fluke by expanding the model into new states. The company even changed its name to JobsInTheUS.com to reflect the change in strategy.

JobsInTheUS is dwarfed by the likes of Monster and HotJobs, which had close to 9 million visitors each in August.

But if it can draw, say, 300,000 visitors a month – the number that visited JobsInME in August – in 20, 30 or 40 states, its numbers too would reach into the millions.

A likely expansion scenario is to enter states similar to Maine and New Hampshire – those with two or three metropolitan areas, high Internet usage and relatively low radio advertising prices, Hoffner said.

Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama are among those that fit the bill, meaning there could be a JobsInNV.com or JobsInCO.com next year.

Wherever JobsInTheUS goes, there will be competition. That’s because there are roughly 40,000 Internet job boards nationwide, according to Weddle’s, a Stamford, Conn., company that publishes directories to Internet job sites.

Peter Weddle said online job sites are becoming increasingly focused by profession, demographics and geography. There are even sites just for weed scientists and undertakers, he said.

And these days, even the largest help-wanted Web sites have begun targeting hourly blue-collar and service workers after pitching themselves primarily to resume-toting professionals for years.

Monster.com launched a local job site in the Cincinnati market. And HotJobs has created what it calls a “diversity center,” so companies can promote themselves to workers by ethnicity or gender.

HotJobs this month also added a feature for job recruiters to narrow their search for job candidates by zip code, or colleges they attended, said Tres Meyer, senior vice president of marketing. Even so, don’t expect the big boards to narrow their focus too much. “We aren’t getting into niche board business,” Meyer said.

Weddle said the JobsInTheUS strategy is a good one because most hiring is local. But it’s not a unique approach.

RegionalHelpWanted.com, for instance, has scores of regional job boards across the country. In Maine they are SouthernMaineHelpWanted.com, CentralMaineHelpWanted.com and EasternMaineHelpWanted.com. The company operates by establishing partnerships with radio stations to advertise the sites in exchange for a share of revenues.

JobsInTheUS.com runs quality job sites, Weddle said, so its future success will depend on execution.

“While there have been many, many sites that have launched in the past year, many many others have failed because they attempted to expand and weren’t able to execute,” he said.

Hoffner concedes he has plenty of doubters.

How, they ask, can a tiny company with only 14 employees and offices in an old woolen mill compete with Monster.com and HotJobs? Those companies bought TV ads during the 2003 Super Bowl (Ad rate: $2.1 million per 30-second spot.)

But he’s got faith in his company and in the possibilities of making money on the Internet.

“This is what I refer to as the Renaissance of the Internet Age,” he said. “The first stage was the Oklahoma land rush that made a lot of people poor and a lot of people rich.”

On the Net:

JobsinUS.com http://JobsintheUS.com/jobsintheus/default.asp

HotJobs.com http://hotjobs.yahoo.com/

Monster.com http://www.monster.com/

CareerBuilders.com www.careerbuilder.com

AP-ES-09-26-03 1133EDT

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