Businesses benefit from a vibrant ‘college town’

The biggest “college town” in New Hampshire is not Durham, Plymouth, Keene or Hanover, says Kathy Cook, business education coordinator for the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. While each of those communities is home to a single dominant college or university, the greater Manchester area has more than 15,000 full- and part-time graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in business, engineering, fine arts, technology and liberal arts programs at 11 accredited colleges and universities.

“Manchester has the most college students, and people don’t even think of it as a college town,” says Cook, who is also the staff person for the Manchester Area College Consortium. The consortium, known as MACC, was created to promote the colleges and their contributions to the economic, social and cultural life in and around the state’s largest city.

“I don’t think most people in the area have any idea how many colleges we have here,” Cook says. “We don’t drive down Main Street and see a big brick ivy-covered college campus. Many of us drive by college campuses every day and don’t even know it.”

Manchester’s institutions of higher learning are scattered throughout the city, from Southern New Hampshire University at the north end to Granite State College out near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport at the southern end of the city. Most area residents would recognize the sprawling SNHU campus, where 1,976 full-time undergraduates and about a thousand graduate students attend classes, and Saint Anselm College, a co-ed liberal arts college just over the town line in Goffstown, with 1,968 students. UNH-Manchester, with its large chimney tower bearing its name, stands prominently in the center of the city’s Millyard, where 1,550 full- and part-time university students pursue graduate and post-graduate degrees.

But it is easy to drive down Commercial Street without noticing the Manchester branch of Franklin Pierce University of Rindge or the Springfield College School of Human Services, offering evening and weekend classes for those in the social services professions. And Hesser College, with 1,281 students in day and evening classes, has been largely out of sight since its move several years ago from Lowell Street in the city’s downtown to Sundial Avenue, just south and downhill of the Queen City Bridge.

But with more than 1,200 faculty and staff, the colleges in the Queen City have been steady contributors to its talent pool and economic growth.

Business partnerships

“We put $5.5 million into the building,” says Charles Monahan, president of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. Extensive renovations to the former Keyspan building on Elm Street were part of the preparations for the opening three years ago of the only pharmaceutical college in northern New England. The school has 250 students now, but will have 400 in two years, Monahan said.

“We have 46 jobs up there,” Monahan said in a telephone interview from Boston. “Many of our faculty came and bought houses and moved families into New Hampshire.”

At New Hampshire Community Technical College at Manchester, some companies have been helped with technical assistance in employee training.

“We do offer customized training for business and industry for upgrading the skills of their current workforce,” says Darlene Miller, the college’s president. “Businesses contact us, and our director of workforce development can go out and do an evaluation and put together a training agreement. We may bring someone into their company to do the training or put them into one of our courses here at the college.”

Classes conducted for area businesses have ranged from welding classes for Brazonics in Hampton to an American Sign Language course for employees at Wellpoint Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Manchester. Felton Brush in Londonderry and Maine Drilling and Blasting in Auburn are among the other companies that have received employee training from the college, says Voula Annas, director of workforce development.

“They vary, depending on the industry,” she says. “Some of them are looking for technical skills like welding or for an upgrading of math skills. Some are looking for ESL (English as a Second Language) in the workplace,” says Annas. “Some will send employees to open enrollment classes to take computer applications.”

At Brazonics, classroom training was combined with practical application and testing in the company’s own welding shop.

“We have three welders, and we had to have them certified to various specifications, mostly from the American Welding Society,” says Scott Horton, quality director at Brazonics. “Then we had to meet some of our customer specifications that I reviewed with the professor, who incorporated that into our training.”

The training gives the company a CWI, or certified welding inspector, “right on the premises,” says Horton, who views the on-site instruction and certification as a welcome alternative to sending employees out for training. “People are in their own environment, using their own equipment. It’s a much better program. It’s much faster,” he says.

Internship programs

At Southern New Hampshire University, a partnership with Fidelity Investments in Merrimack has Fidelity personnel teaching in the school’s Center for Financial Studies. Students earn college credits while qualifying to be licensed investment brokers.

“It’s a course created for our undergraduate students,” says Jim Kuras, the university’s director of career development. The investment firm also takes students on three-month internships or six-month co-op programs. The university has internships with several other area businesses as well, including the Manchester Monarchs, who have provided job experiences for students majoring in sports management. Duties may include anything from ticket sales to concessionaire work, but the experience helps the students get started on their future careers, says Doug Blais, chairman of the sports management department.

“The sports industry is so competitive, it’s just supply and demand,” says Blais. “If our kids don’t do it, there’ll be another 50 lined up behind them to do it.”

Sam Allen, director of career education services at Saint Anselm College, estimates that students at that school are filling about 250 internships with area businesses and nonprofit organizations.

According to national studies, he says, 60 to 80 percent of student interns get job offers as a result. “The majority of them are small to medium-size businesses,” he says. “Having an intern affords a great opportunity to preview interns as future hires.”

Granite State College has about 300 degree candidates, primarily adult students, at its Manchester site — one of the college’s nine locations statewide.

The college has provided education and training programs to school districts, private school and nonprofit organizations, but has not yet focused on contracting with business and industry. That may change, however, with the addition of four statewide “outreach recruiters” recently hired by the college, says Ron Blankenstein, special assistant to college president Carol La Croix.

Along with efforts to recruit more Hispanics and other minority students and to increase services to public and non-profit institutions, the outreach personnel will be “asking business and industry, ‘Are there programs or courses you would like us to bring out to you?’” says Blankenstein.

John Roche, president of Hesser College, says the college provides a variety of what he calls “externship” opportunities in the community for its criminal justice, paralegal and psychology students.

Roche, who has been at Hesser only three months, joined the school from New York, where he held administrative positions with Berkeley College and Long Island University.

“I’ve had a lot of experience in developing corporate-based training programs,” he says. “I would like to do that here.”

At UNH-Manchester, Dean Kristin Woolever says she is working with high-tech companies in the area on ideas for new science and technology programs at the urban campus.

“We’re looking to expand out footprint in that area and become a science and technology center here in town,” she says. The school also will be expanding the supply of student interns to companies requesting them.

“I would say in a given semester we probably place, in all of our programs, 75 people out in community,” says Patrice Mettauri, coordinator of outreach scholarship at UNHM. “It’s going to grow as we add programs that include internships of part of the requirements. It’s ultimately our goal to get our students out in the community as much as possible.”