New development agency takes shape around Nashua
If you want to move or expand your business near Nashua, and you are looking to put together a financing package, check out the new kid on the block, Gateway Industrial Development Corp.
Gateway, actually a revival of the defunct Greater Nashua Center for Economic Development, will be the state’s 13th regional development corporation, and the first new one in almost a decade.
Unlike its predecessor, the new organization’s region will not include the city of Nashua, which has its own economic development department. Instead, Gateway will concentrate – at least for now – on the surrounding dozen municipalities.
While many of those towns seem to be developing at a rather rapid pace on their own, Gateway Executive Director Paul Brown explained that big-box retailers, chain restaurants and other suburban sprawl isn’t the type of growth Gateway was promoting.
“We are not talking so much about development, but about helping industrial and light industrial businesses expand,” he said.
After the tech boom ended, many of the good-paying jobs that went with it disappeared. And while many of the companies remain in the region, they don’t employ nearly as many workers as before. And greater Nashua’s unemployment rate is about a percentage point higher than the state average — and even larger than areas surrounding Manchester, Concord and Claremont.
“The challenge is not to build new industrial parks,” said Brown. “The problem is that there are a lot of large parking lots that are not being fully utilized.”
The solution isn’t necessarily to attract new companies, he said, but to help existing companies have the financial wherewithal to hire more people.
“The most common transaction won’t involve a building permit at all but to enable a company invest in a piece of equipment,” he said.
Gateway won’t come up with this money itself. Rather, it will act as a conduit for roughly $10 million in federal Community Development Block Grants distributed by the state.
A regional development corporation can lend from $250,000 to $1 million — $20,000 for each job created — at market rates.
“Philosophically, we are not there for a cheap loan,” Brown said. “If a deal is going to happen all by itself then we’re not going to do it. It’s mainly to make a primary lender a little more comfortable.”
The interest made from these loans help finance other loans, theoretically lessening the need for federal money to make these things happen.
Cooperation is goal
Gateway is still working on its first loan, but that’s because it just got off the ground, and such deals usually take months to develop, Brown said. Its predecessor, the Greater Nashua Center of Economic Development, was credited with helping the city come back from the previous economic collapse in the ‘90s, funding a business incubator in an old mill building.
But when the city of Nashua, which partially funded the center, started its own economic development department, the center foundered, recalled commercial real estate broker Michael Monks, who now chairs the Gateway board.
“We didn’t have the significant funds to retain paid staff,” he said.
The board pushed on, regrouped as an all-private sector entity, and after some debate, grabbed a $70,000 federal grant to start up again.
Brown — who previously worked for the Monadnock Regional Development Corp. — agreed to come on board part time and is now working out of a virtual office.
At some point, Gateway officials say they’d like to cooperate with Nashua in putting together deals that might help the whole region, but for now they’re concentrating on the surrounding towns — Amherst, Brookline, Hollis, Hudson, Litchfield, Lyndeborough, Mason, Merrimack, Milford, Mont Vernon, Pelham and Wilton.
Nashua’s economic development director, Jay Minkarah, certainly doesn’t see the new kid on the block as a competitor. After all, his budget, like most city budgets, is shrinking these days, and anything that will bring new jobs to the region will help the city that sits in the middle of it.
“It will certainly be of value,” said Minkarah. “I’m all in favor of a regional approach.”
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