How does NH attract growing companies?

First, create growth hubs or nodes where small businesses can prosper


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In the Feb. 8 issue of Forbes, David Malpass’ column is titled, “Investors Stretched Thin.” He speaks to all the financializations (such as companies buying back stock), and while it has polished up balance sheets, it has not sown much. The takeaway is that profits will be harder to come by in the next several quarters.

However, turn the page to Rick Karlgaard’s column, “2016’s Silver Linings.” He says China is not really on its knees, it will recover; American stocks won't collapse; and jobs and wages (in the U.S.) will continue to grow. He also comments that the presidential race must (eventually) debate taxes and regulations. Those are two key issues voters do care about.

Lastly, he is excited about “Digital Gets Physical” – Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are now building real things. The “Internet of Things” means just that - real things, not just bits, bytes and pixels. He concludes “Shed your doom and gloom. It is a great time to be alive.” Let's hope he is right!

I have been involved in multiple economic development discussions in recent months, at the state, regional and municipal levels. There is strong consensus that things could be better, much better. Some of this focuses on jobs with good wages and stability (vs. seasonal construction, recreation and retail).

So how does New Hampshire and its communities attract growing firms? How come General Electric is not moving its headquarters here?. There is much we can do to create growth hubs or nodes where small businesses can prosper. New/revitalized urban environments – like Concord’s over $10 million Main Street project, very high-speed Internet, affordable housing (of many types), social spaces, recreation, walkability – focus on the built environment.

We also need successful students with real (practical) job skills. It starts with basic manners, appearance, showing up on time and willingness to work full days. It also involves real skills – the ability to write software or run a CNC machine or ming welder.

So while we have the great outdoors, we need local recreation access as well, such as hiking and biking trails. We need fun places to live (work, play). This quality-of-life quotient is our best recruiting tool.

As for General Electric, it did not consider New Hampshire as we are a secondary (or tertiary) market and we could not offer even a modicum of the incentives that Boston and Massachusetts were offering. So we must set our sights more realistically – smaller firms looking to stretch a dollar.

Here in New Hampshire, this is a new approach after many decades of businesses coming into the state in droves. Adding to the complexity is the fact that New Hampshire communities are not just competing regionally (with Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, etc.) but nationally and globally.

My work takes me to the Carolinas regularly, and I have witnessed firsthand the growth hubs of Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte (not to mention Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Asheville, etc.). Affordable housing options, cheaper energy costs, mild winters – it all adds up to competition for New England.

So the $64 question (as we used to say in the middle of the last century) is: What are realistic economic development goals? Obviously, General Electric's new headquarters is not one, so what is? Is it tech? If so, what sort? How about the new sectors? New Hampshire can nibble at some of these, but it will not be the driver or major hub for any of them, as we simply lack the critical mass in research and development, capital investment, technology workers, etc.

So for New Hampshire and northern New England it will be small ball – singles and doubles. We need to start by recruiting the entrepreneurs and technology wizards and then develop and supply what they demand (smart workers, good housing choices, etc.) Lots of work to do here.

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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