Cook on Concord
A lot of things ramped up in January. There were obvious changes in Manchester, new leadership at the Business & Industry Association, a new governor with an apparent new work ethic, rumors of gambling and reminders of the importance of our community technical college system.
Manchester continues to be a changing and strengthening place. One of last year’s sad events, the closing of the Jac Pac facility which put 500 or so workers on the street, became an opportunity in 2005. The city completed the acquisition of the 17-acre parcel along the Merrimack River where Jac Pac had operated, and there were reports that the vast majority of workers had been re-employed.
Immediately south of the land where the Fisher Cats baseball stadium is being built, along with a hotel and condominiums, control of the Jac Pac site gives Manchester the opportunity to plan and market the land appropriately for maximum economic development, if the city is smart enough to avail itself of that opportunity.
At the same time, at the corner of Bridge and Elm Streets, long vacant, the Manchester Place apartment complex and parking garage has risen nine stories high. This will bring the occupants of the 230 high-end apartments into downtown for breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening activities and will bring additional residential vitality to the center of the city which has already seen new restaurants, entertainment sites and activities.
The Business & Industry Association, New Hampshire’s statewide business voice, welcomed Jim Roche, its new president, in January. Roche lost no time in taking the helm of the organization, meeting state leaders, fanning out across the state to get the views of his members and others and learning the state and its issues.
At a reception for legislators, the BIA president stressed the business community’s opposition to increased business taxes as a way to solve the state’s budget woes. It will take all of his skill to get the message of business across to the state, which has few options in solving its budget problems. Roche appears up to the job and undoubtedly will pick his issues carefully.
The BIA board has had presentations recently from Commissioner John Stephen concerning his Granite Care plan and from other state leaders on state problems and potential solutions such as targeted aid for education funding. As in the past, the BIA and the business community will have input. The state will enjoy getting to know Jim Roche in his new role.
Of course, there is a new governor in the corner office in Concord and more than one observer noted the long hours that the governor’s official car is parked in front of the State House. A state Ford has replaced the SUV or personal Hummer of Lynch’s predecessor. The long hours undoubtedly are not just an indication of Lynch’s work ethic but the magnitude of the issues he faces in his new position.
Gambling as a solution to budget problems is always just below the surface in Concord, but it has broken the surface lately with such proponents as Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester and Senate President Thomas Eaton of Keene touting its potential.
The owners of the existing dog tracks and Rockingham Park point to the ability to implement expanded gambling at the tracks quickly as an advantage. This quick fix is supported by those who say it is only a minor expansion of what we already have and is opposed by former attorneys general, police chiefs and religious and civic organizations, which think it would change the nature of the state.
The problems of two executives at the Lakes Region dog track got the issue a lot of publicity and certainly did not do the proponents any good, but the issue will be present until the budget issues are put to rest, and the lobbying effort is well-funded and pushed by several prominent lobbyists.
The New Hampshire Community Technical College System, formerly the vocational technical colleges, has campuses throughout the state and has recently added the attributes of community college education to its offerings, signing agreements with many four-year institutions to agree to take its successful graduates with their two year degrees and allow them to finish their education.
In an era of high college costs, many students are finding the community technical colleges to be an efficient way to enter the higher education process, perform well and move on. There also are many college graduates who go back to be retrained in a new career through the college’s courses.
Recently, the community technical college in Manchester hosted a legislative reception at which it explained its mission, students and needs. The college hopes to have a new building to meet its ever-expanding enrollment, one which can house library, student center and educational facilities for its health care-related educational programs. Legislators seemed receptive and, it’s hoped, will understand the great “bang for the buck” that education in New Hampshire can receive by supporting new facilities for the community technical college in Manchester and the other campuses as well.
A capital plan is being developed by the commissioner and board of trustees for presentation to the Legislature in its capital budget deliberations. This deserves public support.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.