Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association (BIA) of New Hampshire, heard three themes from a recent study: the consistency and predictability of the business environment is a challenge; the labor pool of science, technology, math and engineering workers is too small; and New Hampshire is expensive for business.
“We have high health care costs, high energy costs, a high Business Enterprise Tax,” he said.
Roche was the keynote speaker at a Regional Roundtable of business and education leaders sponsored by the Greater Derry/Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and Colliers International. Chamber members packed the Town Council meeting room at the Derry Municipal Center to hear Roche’s perspective, and then listened to a panel of experts discuss it, at a breakfast meeting this past Friday.
Stacy Bruzzese, director of the Chamber, gave the welcome to “A Strategic Economic Plan for New Hampshire.” She noted that business is complicated “It’s no longer just hanging your shingle out and expecting people to come.” Using sports metaphors, she said anyone in business today needs to “up their game and level the playing field,” and said a regional approach will work best.
Roche agreed. In detailing the results of a study by his Strategic Plan Committee, he noted that “this isn’t a to-do list for the BIA. It’s a plan for the benefit of New Hampshire.”
Nine issue areas were identified:
• Business growth, retention and attraction;
• Education, workforce skills and labor pool;
• Fiscal policy;
• Health care;
• Natural, cultural and historic resources;
• Regulatory environment; and
• Workforce housing.
The board received its final draft in October 2013, and decided to focus on six areas, Roche said.
The first is surveying New Hampshire businesses on labor and environmental regulations, he said. “We will identify the most onerous, and craft legislation or regulatory responses,” he said.
The second: exploring the outsourcing of various regulatory functions, particularly with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), to lessen the wait time for business and industry. “With the constrained resources at DES, there are long waits,” he explained.
The third was increasing the tax credit for Research and Development. “We need to increase the overall state investment in R&D and streamline access to it,” he said.
The fourth item? Education. “We want to reinvest in programs that improve outcomes,” he said.
The fifth is health care. A Health Care Delivery Through Cooperation Act will provide a regulatory framework to allow health care providers to better collaborate and to eliminate redundant services. The BIA is also in favor of expanding Medicaid, Roche said, noting that when Medicaid is restricted, the businesses are the ones that pay.
The sixth area will be Fiscal Policy, Roche said. They are looking to see a commission to identify and implement cost reductions in state government, he said.
Roche said the BIA is also interested in infrastructure and supported State Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, with his recent effort toward a one-time gas tax increase. “We are nervous about advocating any tax increase,” he said, “but our roads and bridges are in disarray.”
When Bruzzese opened the meeting for a panel discussion, many of the representatives from area towns agreed with Roche. Nathan Greenberg, superintendent of schools for Londonderry, said his district recognizes the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). “We have several regional technical centers, but it hasn’t gone far enough,” Greenberg said. In New York City, for example, one program is a six-year model for high school where a student can graduate with an associate’s degree and a guaranteed job with IBM.
“We need to establish partnerships with major employers,” Greenberg said.
In New Hampshire, even with districts that emphasize STEM, graduates are still leaving the state, he added.
Laura Nelson, superintendent for the Derry Cooperative School District, said her seven schools are emphasizing STEM at earlier and earlier grades. One school has a Young Engineers’ Club, she said. Nelson doesn’t just want to see bright young people come back to New Hampshire for the business world she wants to see them in the Derry schools. “We need those skills in the classroom,” she said.
Acting Derry Town Administrator Larry Budreau said Derry has seen some successes in fostering business growth, most recently in the beginning of the extension of town water and sewer down the Route 28 Bypass toward Windham. The town also has established two successful TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Districts, he said.
But Budreau said the desired growth will come more easily with a dedicated person. He has made room in the 2015 budget for a Community Economic Development Coordinator, he said, adding, “If we don’t have that focus, it’s not happening.”
Laura Scott, economic development director for Windham, agreed. “Six or seven years ago, the town decided to stop being reactive and start being proactive,” she said. “A group of citizens got together and formed an Economic Development Commission. It’s equivalent to a Conservation Commission, but from the perspective of business.” Like Budreau, they eventually decided they needed a staff person, Scott said.
“You have to have a point person so they’ll know who to call,” she said.
Scott also advocated cooperation. “There’s not enough cooperation between communities,” she said. “We’re pitted against each other, fighting for the limited funding. We need more regional cooperation if one does well, we all do well.”
She advocated “regional marketing” such as the seacoast is doing and noted, “Site selectors don’t just look at the town. They look at the region it’s economy of scale.”
For more information or to read the Strategic Economic Plan, visit the BIA Web site at www.BIAofNH.com