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Forum tackles  region’s future

Jobs, infrastructure seen as critical needs

PETERBOROUGH — A greater sense of civic engagement. Decent housing and affordable transportation. Maintaining the unique identities of local towns. Providing an education that gives students the skills they need to get and keep a good job.

Those were priorities identified by eight people from Rindge, Dublin, Jaffrey and Peterborough who attended a Monadnock Region Future forum organized by the Southwest Region Planning Commission on Thursday at the Peterborough Town House.

Tara Germond of the SWRPC described the event as a community conversation, intended to help the planning commission develop a comprehensive plan for the future.

“We’re trying to identify projects that are important for the next 20 years,” Germond said to open the discussion. “The goal is to learn what you value most.”

The friendliness of the people, the beauty of the region and its relative isolation were strong attractions for several people.

“I have roots that run way back,” said Caroline Hollister of Jaffrey. “When I married, I left, but I knew I’d come back. The scale of the Monadnock region is very human. It’s easy for us to be people here.”

“The community is so welcoming. The people are very genuine,” said Laurel Brown, who recently started working in the Monadnock region doing community relations for Public Service of New Hampshire.

“The kids, even the teenagers, will say hello,” said Ed Merrell of Jaffrey.

Rob Stephenson of Jaffrey said the lack of interstate highways is a great benefit, although Rusty Bastedo of Dublin noted that many of the roads throughout the state are in terrible shape, which he said makes towns more isolated.

“Transportation really is an issue,” said Pat Martin of Rindge. “I wish we still had the train that came up to Jaffrey.”

When asked what would make the region better, several people mentioned better jobs and better education.

“All these towns were once factory towns,” Bastedo said. “Now the factories are gone. We need better infrastructure to attract industry.”

Francie Von Mertens of Peterborough noted that many residents are willing to pay the price of long commutes to their jobs in order to live in the region.

“Beware of economic development unless it means good jobs,” Von Mertens said.

Merrell said there are already good jobs available.

“The lack of skilled workers is the problem,” he said. “The schools don’t educate kids well enough so they are able to walk into a job.”

Martin said efforts to improve the technology infrastructure in the region must be a priority.

“Moving to a place with no high-speed Internet is like having no running water,” she said.

Hollister said building a greater sense of civic engagement is necessary. For many people who live in Jaffrey, she said, it’s just a bedroom community. They aren’t involved with town or school issues, and few people turn out for Town Meeting or school district voting.

Germond said the issues of transportation, community engagement and affordable housing were also mentioned frequently at three earlier SWRPC community conversations, held in Antrim, Winchester and Alstead.

The results of the four sessions will be analyzed in the coming months, according to Germond. One of the project’s goals is to eventually direct capital investments to locally identified needs, and a final plan, expected to be complete by the fall of 2014, will offer recommendations to both local municipalities and state officials.

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