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Capitalizing on  economic identity

What’s our economic future? What does growth look like? How big do we want to get? And how do we balance our future with our history?

These questions have long formed an ongoing debate across rural America, and these issues are clear and present in many of the small towns that make up the Monadnock region.

Along the Route 202 corridor, three of the bigger towns in our region — Peterborough, Jaffrey and Rindge — are each taking a hard look at growth, and how that could drive both their area’s identity and economy.

Peterborough has sustained some rather large economic hits in recent years, including the loss of Brookstone, the more recent scale-back of Eastern Mountain Sports and the wider regional demise of a once flourishing magazine industry. And the prospects of luring large businesses to replace those losses are seemingly few.

Though the town wants to become a destination for large business, it is also fiercely protective of its small town image — one that eschews calls to draw in big box stores, despite the retail and construction jobs that would come with such a move.

The town is crafting its vision around these realities, and is now looking to position itself — and its economy — by building on its identity as an arts community. A plan for how this vision will play out is still in its infancy, but the notion is that a vibrant arts community can serve as both a tourism draw and as an economic driver. It won’t replace all those lost jobs, but it would solidify the town’s future, while maintaining its prized character.

Jaffrey, meanwhile, is striving to create a destination downtown much like Peterborough’s. The Park Theatre is well on its way to becoming a regional arts draw, and there is a continued push to bring in more restaurants to a downtown area that aims to become more pedestrian-friendly. At the same time, it’s working to further its base as the region’s manufacturing hub, and it’s doing so by careful planning and capital improvements.

Earlier this year, Jaffrey completed a waterline extension to the industrial park on Old Sharon Road, which will not only assist with firefighting operations there, but also, it is hoped, reduce insurance costs for existing businesses located in the area. The upgrade positions Jaffrey as an attractive place for start-up or expanding industrial operations, too. Old Sharon Road is home to Atlas Fireworks and New England Wood Products, both of which have the potential for continued growth.

Rindge is on the other side of the equation. Town leaders are also looking for smart growth, but it’s already staked part of its identity in the stretch of Route 202 that leads to Massachusetts. Those passing through define the town by its Walmart and its Market Basket. And those big box retailers have certainly helped draw regional spending within its borders.

But now there’s a push to be more than that. Capitalizing on 50 years of being a college town may be part of the answer. There are small businesses in the town already doing just that. Perhaps rallying behind that image will help market the town as a place to do business within the context of higher education.

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