NH’s new tech opportunity

We need to figure out how to attract and keep micro and small firms


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Concord, New Hampshire's capital city is spending north of $10 million to rebuild its Main Street. This “investment” is hoped to spur “economic development,” not just in the downtown but throughout the community.

The idea is that a vibrant Main Street – downtown core, with new shops, new restaurants and more housing units on the upper floors – will create a vibrant core to the city and thus attract businesses, entrepreneurs and visitors (shoppers and consumers).

This “economic revitalization” is happening in many communities in the state. It is an attempt to improve “quality of life” with the hope that this will spur new business formations and energy in the downtown/central business district core. It is further hoped that an initial wave of new activity will result in further waves of activity (more businesses, more shops, more restaurants and more downtown dwelling units).

This is all well and good at the micro scale. But how do small New Hampshire towns and cities hope to compete and capture their fair share? In Concord’s case, a city of 43,000 to 44,000 is challenged to get a big bang for its buck. But how do other New England communities achieve success in these endeavors?

I recently came upon Rich Karlgaard’s column in Forbes, “Innovation Rules.” He talks about the “Disruptive Dozen.”

This is a global view and discussion from a senior columnist for a global magazine. Karlgaard lists 12:

 • 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

 • Automation of knowledge work.

Each and all of these emerging technologies will have significant impacts in the future. It is interesting that small and medium-sized communities in New Hampshire rarely look at the significant impact technologies might have on their future. This is a residue from a microscopic view of development and redevelopment, including municipal planning and zoning, which most often proceeds lot by lot, or one lot at a time.

Our planning boards and zoning boards work within an abundance of existing regulations. They rarely get out of the weeds. They react to proposals put in front of them. In this process, they rarely get to rise up to 5,000 or 10,000 feet to look at the big picture.

This is easier said than done. It begs the question of what is the state’s mid and long-term development plan, and subsequently what or how does that manifest within metro regions (Keene v. Hanover/Lebanon v. Manchester v. Concord v. Nashua v. Portsmouth and the Seacoast). Each

of these wants more tax base given that we are so reliant on property taxes. Each of these wants more “good” jobs. Each of these wants to retain its young college graduates.

But small/micro communities in the 21st century cannot hope to compete. The hot markets in the U.S. today, competing globally are not Manchester, Concord, Lebanon or Portsmouth. They are Raleigh-Durham, Austin, Portland, Ore. So if New Hampshire really wants a vibrant, healthy and expanding economy, it needs to scale up.

We do have a high (very high?) quality of life. We are “an hour from” Boston. We do have several colleges and universities. So there is much to be excited about. But there are no Cabletrons, no Digitals, and even our financial services firms are shrinking. Tech, and specifically small-scale tech, is the future. We need to figure out (quickly) how to attract and keep these micro and small firms.

To ignore this opportunity is a drastic mistake. So each of our communities needs to put their best talent forward and they need to aggregate to secure a viable place in the global economy for the next 10, 20 and 30 years. Again, easier said than done.

Look at Karlgaard’s list – how many of those do we see in New Hampshire or northern New England?

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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