Economic health is linked to community preservation

New Hampshire’s economic future will depend largely on how well each community in the state preserves its distinctive character, provides affordable housing and safeguards the state’s environment, according to Exeter resident Peter Francese, a nationally known demographics expert.

Francese was the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s conference on “Saving Community Landmarks and Landscapes” conference. The Concord event attracted about 150 community officials from around the state.

Francese – who has more than 30 years’ experience as a demographer – has written two books on marketing, was the co-founder of one of the nation’s first demographic information firms, and founder of American Demographics magazine. He currently writes a monthly column for that magazine and is the demographic trends analyst for the firm of Ogilvy & Mather.

Among the growth trends Francese cited in his talk were:

• New Hampshire’s population is increasing at approximately 1 percent a year, and that growth is slowing.

• Virtually all growth will be among older adults and due mostly to in-migrants.

• Three-quarters of all projected growth from 2005-2015 will be in New Hampshire’s four largest counties (Hillsborough, Rockingham, Merrimack and Strafford)

• All but three counties (Strafford, Cheshire and Sullivan) are expected to grow more slowly than in the 1990s

Francese also pointed out a number of trends relating to the aging of the population:

• The sharp decline in 35-44-year-olds, half of whom are married with children, combined with a lack of affordable housing, hinders the state’s economy because a large segment of the group are married with children, spend twice as much in retail purchases as older groups and their children form the basis of the future workforce

• The state’s highest growth is in the 55-to-74-year-old bracket, many of whom own second homes (New Hampshire is third in the nation in the percentage of second homes).

• Rapid growth in the older population offers a good pool for fund-raising for community projects.

According to Francese, most new homes are located in suburban or rural areas away from town centers, and that development pattern often wipes out open space, seldom creates any affordable housing, and can cost more than redeveloping existing structures or compact new development.

Town centers with housing are more economically attractive than those without housing, according to Francese, because the costs of sprawl include higher per capita expenditures for municipal services, such as road maintenance, and in some cases because schools or municipal facilities need to be relocated to more distant sites — all costs that result in higher taxes.

Municipal leaders also often try to limit housing for families based on misconceptions about cost, and the resulting limited supply of housing increasingly excludes these significant contributors to our economy, he said. On the other hand, the small size of New Hampshire’s school districts place excessive burdens on municipalities, he said, adding that a regional or state-level task force be formed to examine the interrelationship of these complex issues and develop strategies to address social and economic goals.

Also at the event, Gov. Craig Benson urged attendees to combine their creativity and passion with entrepreneurial actions “to help change New Hampshire for the better while preserving the past.”

New Hampshire’s special places, along with its people and volunteer spirit, are what make the state so attractive to businesses and visitors, he said. Recent studies show that preservation investments yield quality jobs and serve as a substantial stimulant for community development, according to the governor.

Conference sponsors included Public Service of New Hampshire, Henry Page House Restoration, Citizens Bank, First Period Colonial Preservation/Restoration, Merrimack County Savings Bank and CMK Architects.

Categories: News