Data show sluggish Hillsborough County economic growth

There’s no reason to panic or move to the Seacoast over data that shows widely differing economic growth in several of New Hampshire’s southern counties, says one New Hampshire economist. According to 2010 data of gross metropolitan product for 366 metropolitan regions across the country, the Manchester-Nashua region — or, in other words, Hillsborough County — the GMP shrank by a half-percent from 2009 to 2010.The data, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, shows the area’s GMP fell from $21 billion to $20.9 billion. While that was still the 96th largest output in the nation, the negative year-over-year growth landed the region a sluggish ranking of 324 out of the 366 regions included in the report. But the Greater Boston region — which statistically encompasses Strafford and Rockingham counties in New Hampshire — experienced one of the strongest growths in the nation over the same period. Its GMP grew by 4.8 percent over, from $297.2 billion in 2009 to $313.7 billion in 2010. In fact, that region grew faster than any of the 10 largest metro areas in the nation.But even though more than five percentage points separate the figures, it’s not likely a case of Rockingham and Strafford counties outperforming Hillsborough County, said Dennis Delay, economist at the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies. “Strafford and Rockingham would be a very small part of that total Boston area,” said Delay. “Clearly, Boston carries the area.” Boston in particular has been helped by the recovery of the financial sector, which Delay said has been recovering more quickly than many other industries. “When you consider how hard the financial sector was hit in 2007 through 2009, if it came back even a little bit, that would explain why Boston did better than Hillsborough County did,” he said. Delay also warned against looking at the regional growth from just one year to the next. “At least in this time period and according to this data, from 2009-2010, Boston did a little bit better than southern New Hampshire did,” he said. “But I’d want to look at it over a longer time period — like five years — because over five years it might be a different story.” In each year since 2007, GMP has remained much more steady in Hillsborough County than Greater Boston, which went on more of a roller coaster ride. Hillsborough’s GMP was $20.2 billion in 2007, $21 billion in 2008 and 2009, and $20.9 billion in 2010. Greater Boston saw more of a flux, from $290.9 billion in 2007, $300.7 billion in 2008, $297.2 billion in 2009 and $313.7 billion in 2010. “There was more of a recovery in Boston, but they had more to recover,” said Delay. The negative growth figures for Hillsborough County also may have been adversely affected by federal state-by-state data released several months ago that was likely in error, said Delay. Those figures showed that New Hampshire had the most sluggish gross state product growth in all of New England, despite economic indicators that seemed to contradict the federal findings. (See related story: Did feds get it wrong on the N.H. economy?)If the data for state GDP were incorrect — which Delay believes it was — then it could have adversely affected the regional GMP figures as well, making Hillsborough’s economic climate seem worse than it is, so it’s best to wait for the revised figures to come out to draw conclusions, he said. “I think it’s way too early to push any kind of panic button – there has been employment data that suggests that Hillsborough has been doing pretty well,” he said. “Manchester seems to be tracking along with the rest of New Hampshire, and New Hampshire is doing better than the rest of the country. You would expect to see gross metropolitan product that is doing better than the rest of the country.” – KATHLEEN CALLAHAN/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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