Start strategizing now on New England’s future

I spent a very enjoyable two hours recently with a quasi leads group headed up by Diane Mercier, senior vice president of Ocean National Bank.

We had a banker, financial adviser, CPA, insurance guy, M & A lawyer, an appraiser and yours truly. Diane provided copies of hand outs from recent economic forecast breakfasts that Messrs. Brian Gottlob, Ross Gittell, Dennis Delay and Peter Francese presented to various groups over recent months.

Discussions began with the projections for the aging of New Hampshire’s population and ranged to the challenge of retaining our young college graduates in the state, the lack of affordable housing, the persistence of high college debt loads for New Hampshire’s graduates, high energy costs as well as the continuing decline of manufacturing jobs and the ongoing reliance on service sector jobs.

That was a lot to cover in two hours, but I found it energizing to hear those from other sectors weigh in. The CPA and the attorney reported that companies are still doing well in terms of profitability and many firms are being sold at what their owners feel may be the peak.

Of course the conversation turned to jobs, a favorite topic of mine, because it takes people to fill buildings, which is how I make a living — leasing and selling commercial properties, as well as advising developers and owners of land about development opportunities.

One article passed around was Neal Peirce’s recent column, “A United Northeast Corridor: Dream, Necessity or Both?” I facilitated a series of meetings in the fall at which Peirce called for New Hampshire to join the other New England states to come together to collectively to focus on green, energy-saving, renewable and alternative fuel systems that would tackle air quality and global warming.

His theme, with which I agree, is that crafty, clever, highly educated and technologically adapted New Englanders should grab the opportunity to address these energy, environmental and climate challenges, creating jobs in new industries. The need and demand is there, and if we suffer from paralysis by analysis others grab the opportunity and will pass us by.

We need to identify technologies, systems and methods that will make a difference to us, our children and our grandchildren. Like President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon, we need to energize our young people to be passionate about science, math, engineering and technology — not to squeeze more memory on a tiny chip but to improve our lives and that of all global citizens.

In northern New England over the past 50 years, we have benefited from a series of economic waves emanating from Boston, MIT, Harvard and Route 128, rippling up and out. The adage that a rising tide lifts all boats is appropriate, and thus we have prospered from defense, technology, computer, telecom and software booms over the past 50 years.

What is the next wave that will float our economic boats? Nanotechnology? Probably not. Biotechnology? No, because it is not job-intensive. If we do not have an answer, we better find one. If we, here in New England and throughout the U.S., are not leading the pack, employing our high end, knowledge based marketable skills then others will in our flat global economy.

A state like New Hampshire is small enough to get leaders around a table quickly. In New Hampshire — which we refer to as a two-call Rolodex state (for you younger readers, a Rolodex was a revolving file system to alphabetically store business cards, used before ACT and PDAs) — you should be able to reach out and connect with anyone in two or perhaps three telephone calls and/or e-mails.

That close connectivity is an asset. Now is the time to get folks in one room, around one table and strategize what our priorities need to be, both strategic and tactical, to maintain and expand our economic vitality today, tomorrow and for the next generation.

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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