Northern Pass risks region reaping benefits of economic change
The Northern Pass project debate has raged around property rights, land values and the destruction of natural beauty on the one hand and potential construction jobs and tax revenues on the other, with little discussion regarding its long-term economic implications on New Hampshire’s small communities.Tourism, many argue, is all that remains for the North Country with the demise of so many industries. Yet writer Peter Wolf has identified a trend, termed the Fifth Migration, which is transforming small communities across the country through the infusion of wealth and capital, leading to economic revitalization at local levels.Communities that are deemed the most desirable places to live are experiencing an influx of people providing new economic stimulus through investment, transformation and innovation. Now under way for over two decades, this trend is significantly impacting communities across the country.There have been four previous major migrations of enormous economic and social impact: the wave of European immigrants and African slaves; the westward expansion; the migration to urban cities resulting from the industrial revolution; and the migration of over 100 million people from the cities to the suburbs.Today’s migration is mainly that of professionals, well educated and well trained. Each year, millions are moving to communities distinguished by natural beauty, abundant recreational opportunities, pristine clean air and water, and relatively few social problems — factors that define so many of our towns in New Hampshire.It is estimated that they bring with them, or create, over $150 billion in assets annually to these places. These are people who seek more fulfillment and balance in their lives by embracing the traditions and lifestyles our communities offer. Their desire to integrate into our communities without destroying their fabric and character brings new energy and capital that will revitalize our towns economically.Today’s migration is driven by a desire for a better lifestyle, not economic necessity. Although this evolutionary process will have its challenges in terms of planning and managing growth, it will revitalize so many of our small communities by providing a vast array of economic opportunity.With new capital comes investment in infrastructure, housing and services. That means more employment for local builders, lenders, architects and service providers. It will lead to better and more diverse retail, restaurants, cultural attractions — activities that are geared for residents, not just tourists. This is long term, consistent and real.Seniors, too, place a high value on and want to retire to areas of natural beauty, recreation and cultural diversions. The most economically influential group in world history, the baby boomers, is now entering retirement age. Estimates suggest that this generation will inherit in excess of $10 trillion in financial and real assets now in the hands of their elderly parents, a sum that will provide stimulus nationwide to the communities that attract them, transforming them back into productive, vibrant places to live and work.This is where our economic future lies, not in projects like Northern Pass, which, by its very design, threatens the possibility of our benefiting from this trend by fouling the natural beauty and introducing real health risks.Arrogantly, Northern Pass remains intransigent on the only the option that maximizes a cash return to its partner, PSNH – the more costly route through the mountains and private land. Burial along pre-softened, public corridors would achieve its objective of bringing power to its southern clients without jeopardizing our future. Other states are demanding burial, given new technologies that make it competitive from a cost and reliability perspective.This migration offers our communities a new opportunity for local economic prosperity and security. We need to ensure Northern Pass and the many other projects slated to follow, do not undermine the very assets that are driving them — abundant natural beauty and recreational opportunities. These are assets that will shape our future just as they’ve shaped our past. It is essential they are protected.Jamie White is founder and principal of a Massachusetts firm committed to developing economic sustainability through design as a means of revitalizing small communities.