Forum on the Future considers challenges

New Hampshire’s not old yet – the average age of a New Hampshire resident is 41 – but between the mass exodus of 20-somethings and a decline in 30- and 40-somethings moving into the state to raise families, it won’t be long before we’re all a bunch of blue hairs.”We’ve got 15 years before the silver Tsunami hits,” said Steve Norton, director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, speaking May 26 at a forum to discuss the challenges New Hampshire faces moving into the post-recession economy.The event was presented by New Hampshire Forum on the Future, a group of business, education and policy experts who believe a highly educated and well-trained workforce is the key to New Hampshire’s economic prosperity. Business and community leaders gathered over breakfast at Nashua Community College to talk about issues that threaten southern New Hampshire’s “economic engine.”An aging population means fewer people in the workforce. It means high-tech companies like BAE Systems and Dell have a harder time finding recent college graduates to hire. And it means other companies might decide not to locate here.New Hampshire has long faced a mass exodus of 20- to 29-year-olds who graduate from college and leave the state in search of a more exciting place to live, said Norton, the main speaker at the event. But until recently, the state could count on 30- to 49-year-olds moving in.”We are not a place that people move to like they did in the past,” Norton said. “Why? We need to answer that question.”Marketing N.H.The aging population is not the only issue threatening the state’s economy, Norton said. New Hampshire continues to lose manufacturing jobs, while most of the job growth is in lower-paying positions in the government and health care industries. The state’s health-care and energy costs are among the highest in the country, he said.In order to maintain a strong economy, Norton said, ways to address these issues must be found.After Norton’s presentation, a panel of business and community leaders offered opinions on the biggest challenges facing the region.Lucille Jordan, president of Nashua Community College, said high tuition rates made necessary by a low-level of state aid are pushing college students out of the state.The New Hampshire Legislature, in its effort to balance the budget, is looking to cut state aid to higher education and eliminate state funding for scholarships.Nashua is losing students to the University of Massachusetts Lowell because the city does not have a public four-year college, Jordan said.Tom Daly, president of Manchester-based Dynamic Network Services, said his company has trouble doing business within the state. Only three of the company’s customers are businesses in New Hampshire, he said”We, as a state, don’t do a good job of marketing ourselves to ourselves,” he said.But the news wasn’t all bad. Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, highlighted some of the infrastructure projects that will be a boon to southern New Hampshire’s economy in the coming years, including the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport access road, which is expected to boost development in Londonderry, and Nashua’s Broad Street Parkway, which is likely to spur development in the city’s millyard because it will connect the district with the F.E. Everett Turnpike.Williams also pointed to the work that’s being done to fight so-called “brain drain” of 20-somethings leaving the state after they graduate from college. Networking groups have been launched across New Hampshire that encourage young professionals to stay in New Hampshire and a nonprofit called Stay Work Play has launched with the same mission. – ASHLEY SMITH/THE TELEGRAPH