Norton on Real Estate: N.H. would benefit by working with the rest of New England

In October, I served as host to Neal Peirce, a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

Neal is affiliated with Citistates Group. He and Curtis Johnson spent three years working on the New England Futures Project. They spent extensive time visiting and interviewing over 400 people in the New England states. They wrote a series of articles on each state, focusing on education, energy, growth and sprawl, health and connections (transportation and broadband). The general theme was New England—New Century, New Game.

Their premise was (and is) that the six states were spinning their wheels competing with one another. New Hampshire prides itself in being the leading New England state. But that ain’t going to get it done in the 21st century global competitive economy! Peirce quotes a French bioscientist: “It takes 25 million people to make a good fight in the world!”

The point is we should band together, because instead of a few hundred thousand workers, we can marshal several million. There is no better region in the country to mount team approaches to energy, education, transportation and health care. “We are a lot better off defining ourselves as part of an integrated metro area of 8 million people instead of a separate place of 1 million.”

The New England Futures Project has been stalled because the parochialism and provincialism of the six separate states preclude any one or more governors from picking up this theme and running with it. In the realm of commercial property brokerage we firmly believe that a “no” is a definite “maybe.” So we invited Neal back to New Hampshire to keynote three events. First he spoke to Concord area citizens at a 2020 symposium, “The Roads to New Hampshire’s Future.”

Specifically, he proposed that issues of energy, both cost and availability, need to be woven into our discussions and planning relative to land use and transportation. The morning was spent examining three highlighted regional issues in Concord and its 13 surrounding towns:

• Connecting the dots of villages, affordable housing and green development

• A transportation system less reliant on the single occupant vehicle

• Economic vitality, a concept that focuses equally on keeping and enhancing the jobs we have now, solely competing for new businesses and jobs.

The next day Neal spoke at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s sixth annual regional Infrastructure Summit. Again, the themes were the benefits of regional collaboration, investment in infrastructure and acknowledging that we have to prepare ourselves to compete in the increasingly flat global economy.

Later that evening, Neal refined these themes at the Concord chamber’s annual dinner. With adversity comes opportunity. New England can take a leadership role in addressing the mounting issues of energy, global warming and developing 21st century technology for U.S. and global markets.

Our recent history in New Hampshire, beginning in the 1970s, has been to benefit from the ripples of the technology, space, defense, computer, telco and software firms sprouting from MIT, Boston, Route 128 and I-495. We need to identify the next technology opportunity and secure our place in its evolution. Perhaps it is right in front of our collective noses with our high energy costs and degrading environment.

Can we marshal our highly educated workforce, our R&D capacities and our entrepreneurial talents? What if we don’t? What are our prospects then? What other wave of technology employment is available to us?

Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE), a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS) and a member of the board of The Initiative for a 2020 Vision for Concord. He can be reached at

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