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Speaker on threats to state’s economic health

  • Steve Norton, NH Center for Public Policy, at Peterborough Chamber of Commerce Meeting<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Marilyn Weir)
  • Steve Norton, NH Center for Public Policy, at Peterborough Chamber of Commerce Meeting<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Marilyn Weir)
  • Steve Norton, NH Center for Public Policy, at Peterborough Chamber of Commerce Meeting<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Marilyn Weir)

What do we mean by the New Hampshire advantage?

That’s the question Steve Norton, executive director of the N.H. Center for Public Policy, asked members of the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce in a breakfast talk Wednesday. While some people say New Hampshire has the leading economy among states in the northeast due to its tax policies, other argue that the quality of life attracts and keeps businesses. Norton said viewpoints vary considerably depending on where you live.

“Up north, people think New Hampshire’s advantage is the opportunity to play in the woods,” he said. “In Nashua, though, they are looking south.”

How long people have lived in the state is also a factor.

“We are not a place of natives,” Norton said, a fact confirmed by a show of hands that indicated a vast majority of chamber members have moved here from somewhere else. “We are the sixth leading non-native state.”

The state’s population has gone up in each decade since the 1950, although the rate of growth has slowed recently.

“We had enormous growth in the years between 1982 and 1988,” Norton said. “Our median age in 41. We don’t have a high percentage of people over 65.”

As a result, New Hampshire is in its economic prime at the moment, he said, but there are a number of threats looming.

The state is in danger of losing its primary source of economic growth: people between the ages of 30 and 40.

“I’m not concerned about the 20-year-olds going off to college or first jobs,” Norton said. “I’m worried that the 30-year-olds aren’t coming back.... What do we do to change our communities so 30 and 40-year-olds want to live here?”

One of Norton’s charts showed the widespread stagnation of school population throughout the state — a 7 percent decline since 2000.

“Between 2000 and 2010, most communities lost school-age children,” Norton said. “It makes our schools basically untenable going forward.”

A second trend he’s seeing is a decline in manufacturing activity, which is traditionally the state’s leading source of revenue.

While manufacturing still generates four times the income of tourism, the total compensation paid to workers in government has now overtaken manufacturing compensation, and health care compensation is not far behind.

“If health care and government are the primary generators of wages, I question if that’s sustainable,” Norton said.

The Peterborough labor market area — the towns of Peterborough, Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Hancock, Jaffrey, New Ipswich, Rindge, Sharon and Temple — is perhaps an exception to this trend, Norton told the Chamber members. Between 2004 and 2011, nearly 200 manufacturing jobs were added, while local government and health care each added about 130 jobs, and arts, entertainment and recreation accounted for just over 100 new jobs. Most other areas declined, with accommodation and food service jobs, down by about 300, leading the way.

During a question-and-answer session, Norton was asked if there will be a bottom line when it comes to school enrollment.

He replied that there will be more children in 10 or 15 years, but the key question will be whether people want to live here.

“Having good schools is crucial to attracting those 30- and 40-year-olds to New Hampshire,” Norton said.

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