What is New Hampshire’s future?

Our history in innovation, invention, investment can help us address challenges


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I was recently in New York City for two days. I took the Acela back to Boston (2¾ hours), walked 10 minutes over to the bus depot at South Station and was in Londonderry (Exit 5) 50 minutes later – all very civilized. The next day was an all-day Land and Community Heritage Investment Program board meeting, where we selected more than 20 projects and awarded $3.5 million. That was a very satisfying day.

The next day I drove to Hypertherm in Lebanon, which was hosting Leadership NH for their economic development day. I followed Steve Norton (no relation) of the Center for Public Policy Studies – a tough act to follow. He spoke of tailwinds turning into headwinds for the New Hampshire economy and the current lack of sizzle in the New Hampshire Advantage.

We both spoke about “coattails” – how New Hampshire’s vibrancy follows metro Boston and the rise of the Massachusetts economy. I facilitated two workshop sessions with the Leadership NH class, again a very enjoyable and rewarding day.

Alas, on Friday I had to go back to work and attend to my real job responsibilities. 

I have been reading two terrific books. One is “A History of Future Cities” by Daniel Brook, an excellent history of St Petersburg, Shanghai, Bombay and Dubai. Brook writes extremely well and the book was very informative about both the growth and development of these cities, as well as the history and politics that shaped their growth. It is well worth reading.

The second book is “Good Work” by E.F. Shumacher, author of “Small is Beautiful.” Another terrific read – the central theme is that we (all nations and economies) need to reconfigure our work to smaller, manageable units that engage all workers with a meaningful and positive experience, not just a paycheck. Hypertherm is one business that seems to be doing that.

While I write often about commercial real estate in New Hampshire and the built environment, it is the underlying economy that drives our economic health and sustainability. I recount frequently that New Hampshire (and New England) have evolved through a series of economic booms.

It started in New Hampshire with the King’s Forest, where masts for ships were cut (along with other timbers and wood products). We had Eli Whitney and Colt that developed standardized firearms, then cotton, shoes, defense, electronics, computers, Dot-Com, wireless technology, software, etc. 

So what is our future? Where should we be focusing our efforts? Rich Karlgaard of Forbes talks of the Disruptive Dozen, all of which “exploit exponential advances in digital technology.

They are: genomics; new materials; energy storage; advanced recovery of oil and gas; renewable energy; robotics; autonomous vehicles; 3-D printing; mobile Internet; Internet of Things; cloud computing; and automation of knowledge work.

A region like ours, with a two-century history of success in innovation, invention, investment and entrepreneurialism, should be thinking long and hard about these 12 sectors. Collectively, cities and towns, state by state, and the entire New England region ought to be really focused on these 12 opportunities. To compete globally, we will need to address many deficiencies and challenges, but we would be heading in the right direction. 

Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and a Facilities Management Administrator (FMA). He can be reached at wbn@nortonnewengland.com. 

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