Planning to help NH compete

There is much to do to make the state competitive and keep it a great place to live


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In the past several columns, I have been ruminating about the future of New Hampshire and how it will compete in the global economy.

There are many elements that contribute to answering that question. First, most would say, is demographics – how many, how old, how educated, how wealthy (or poor) the population is. The second might be our economy in terms of types of jobs and quantity of jobs. Third might be education – are our citizens well-trained and educated to compete in the 21st century? Next, I would put quality of life. I am sure there are other factors which for now we will label “other.”

In April, after returning from Denver, I was excited about the energy young tech companies and their employees can bring to a neighborhood, city or region. But it immediately comes to mind that there has to be scalability to rise up and be noticed in the global marketplace.

Concord at 43,000, Portsmouth at 24,000, Manchester at 113,000 and Nashua at 95,000 don't do it. But if we aggregated all of southern New Hampshire (and even overlap into Vermont, northern Mass and/or Maine), then we are approaching a half-million people, and that may get us a seat at the table.

One of the “other” elements is colleges, tech schools and universities. They are economic engines and must be part of the equation. Southern New Hampshire University is truly a global entity, with over 70,000 online students, a large percentage of whom are international. Dartmouth has a global footprint (but remains hugely isolated and unconnected to New Hampshire). Our tech schools are OK, but fall well short of the 99 community tech schools/colleges in North Carolina, for instance.

This is a philosophical and strategic view – the details and tactics can come later. In management, organizational improvement and strategic management classes, we hear and see, “Plan your management and manage your plan.” If you don't have a plan or a vision you cannot manage it.

Much to do

Can New Hampshire be a successful entrepreneurial platform to launch transformative concepts that address our population trends and demographics? Our economy is largely service sector-driven and dwindling in strong manufacturing jobs. What about our education systems, from pre-K through bachelor’s and master’s programs? The quality-of-life equation?

I began my career development as a carpenter’s apprentice. I thought I would work in at least six trades (carpentry, plumbing, heating and mechanical, electrical, masonry and site work) so I would be well prepared to go on to study architecture. I never quite got there, but I have always touched “the built environment,” whether that is houses, apartments, condos, office buildings, medical facilities, warehouses or manufacturing. I have studied neighborhoods, communities, towns, cities and regions. I have a master's degree in urban geography and marketing.

My goal for the next decade is to integrate all this education and experience, along with visions from travel in the U.S. and abroad, into efforts to improve health (not health care), neighborhoods (through infill and intergenerational housing) the economy and jobs (promoting more tech and modern manufacturing), and even education.

I have worked on several charter schools – they feel right, but they fall under the Department of Education, so they are challenged to be all they might be and are constantly accused of “stealing” all the good students, leaving the rest in the mainstream system.) That one won't be solved this year – or next!

To make New Hampshire competitive and keep it a great place to live, there is much to do. We need to acknowledge that, then identify all of our weaknesses and then start addressing them collaboratively and at a scale we can actually move the needle and affect net change. If we cannot do it in New Hampshire with 1.3 million people or even southern New Hampshire, then the future is dour.

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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