Business Quarterly – Workforce pressed by lack of housing

  • Tim Steele, owner of Microspec in Peterborough, looks over plans for a new Microspec facility, which includes plans to eventually build between 50 and 60 new housing units on the property. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

  • The upper floor of Microspec in Peterborough is slated to become an extension of the business' manufacturing floor, in an expansion that will expand the workforce by 30 to 40 percent, in preparation for a second Microspec building being built on Route 202. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/24/2023 9:00:12 AM

In June, Delanie Cook got a job offer from Peterborough manufacturer Microspec.

Living in Connecticut at the time, she jumped on real estate sites and ran into a reality faced by many young workers looking for housing – places that were affordable, in acceptable condition and within commuting distance to her new employment were thin on the ground.

Cook said she looked at dozens of listings and physically toured three properties, before settling in her apartment in Peterborough, which she said was a good fit and met all her criteria, but had only been advertised locally and was an opportunity she would have missed if she was looking from her home state of Connecticut.

“It wasn’t easy,” Cook said. “Everything has gotten more expensive.”

It’s a growing problem, according to the New Hampshire Housing Market Report, issued by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

According to the report, while production has failed to keep up with the demand for decades, it’s a problem that is increasing for potential buyers or renters. New Hampshire’s current rental vacancy is only about 1 percent, where a vacancy of about 5 percent would be considered “balanced.”

Microspec owner Tim Steele said he’s planning a big expansion for his company, including expanding to the second floor of the current Microspec building and constructing a second manufacturing building on Route 202. Microspec is already in the process of increasing hiring, with the expectation of increasing its roster of about 100 employees by 30 of 40 within the year, Steele said.

But those employees will need a place to live.

In 2022, Microspec increased its starting wage by about $3 per hour, and offered incentives like sign-on bonuses to help attract employees.

“We offer a good living wage – employees are making $20 an hour or more to start,” Steele said. “But how do we attract people to come live and work in the Monadnock region, when we don’t have housing for them?”

On the same parcel where he is planning his new building, on the back of the lot, Steele is planning to build between 50 and 60 apartments or condominiums, which he plans to price to be affordable for the regional workforce. While he hopes it’s an option for Microspec employees, Steele said the development wouldn’t just be limited to his workers.

Microspec isn’t the only business that’s getting proactive with the housing issue.

Laura Gingras, vice president of philanthropy and community relations at Monadnock Community Hospital, said a lack of housing has been a detriment to attracting quality workers.

“Every hospital is up against the need for workforce,” Gingras said. “We have had some outstanding candidates, to whom we made offers, and those offers were turned down because they couldn’t find a place to live.”

The hospital has purchased two properties in Peterborough, one on South Field Road for $224,000 and the other on Old Street Road for $555,000, which abut hospital property, and leased a second condominium on Long Hill Road, all of which are currently being used by hospital employees, who rent them at fair market value.

“Though they are paying the market value, it’s a housing option – something that is available – which has been a great thing for us,” Gingras said.

The conversation around housing needs has been one the hospital has been involved in for a long time, and continues to be top of mind, said MCH Board President Jim Callahan.

At one point, the hospital planned a major expansion, including the possibility of building workforce housing adjacent to the hospital. Peterborough created a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, around the hospital in 2007, with plans to capture the additional tax revenue from the expansion to build a new access road to the hospital. When the recession hit, expansion plans were shelved, and the town retired the TIF district in 2017, unused.

Callahan said the need for housing hasn’t gone away, and those conversations have continued at the hospital, and have only become more relevant.

In a community health needs survey conducted by the hospital last year, a new area of “highest concern” was identified – the need for affordable housing.

“From our perspective, that was kind of startling,” Callahan said.

Callahan said the hospital has a subcommittee on the issue of workforce housing, and he’d like the issue to come back to the forefront of the conversation in the coming year.

“From the hospital’s perspective, we’re about the mission. And we need bodies to do it. If we have to get involved in housing to get the people we need to accomplish the mission, we’ll do that,” Callahan said.

One of the regions largest employers, MilliporeSigma in Jaffrey, recently underwent a large-scale expansion and a major recruitment drive to increase employee numbers. During that period, they offered a moving bonus and housing for up to 90 days for employees who relocated.

David Nichols, head of U.S. corporate affairs, said at its height, that program was providing temporary housing for 80 employees.

“We don’t want housing to be a barrier,” Nichols said.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-9 24-7172, Ext.  244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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