April 09, 2014SHELBURNE - New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan visited the area last week, first holding a business round table at the Town and Country in Shelburne, then taking a trip up to the Milan Village School, which she called "a real leader up here."
The business round table was held by the Governor and Jeffrey Rose, Commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED). It was attended by close to three dozen local business representatives from this area all the way to Lisbon.
"We've been doing these roundtables for awhile, focusing on manufacturing, our biggest industry," Hassan said. "It's important to keep manufacturing here. We need jobs that are high quality. We're hoping to hear what kind of skill sets you need."
Hassan began by outlining some of the initiatives taken recently at the state level.
Funding for state colleges has been brought back up to past levels and she has asked them to freeze tuition. She has appointed a task force to look at strengthening STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the state's schools.
For example, she noted, only two years of math is required to graduate and there are no requirements for computer programming.
"Does that make sense today," she asked.
Other initiatives have included: the research and development tax credit, capped at a per business amount; improving technical assistance to businesses in the area of international trade; and ordering that all state forms needed by businesses be put on-line in one location.
Transportation, she said, was an area the state would continue to work on.
"We can't have a modern successful economy without modern infrastructure," she said.
Noting how the cost of energy affected operations at Gorham Paper and Tissue, Hassan said she has signed an energy approach agreement with the governors of the other New England states.
"We've already seen increased interest in natural gas pipelines," she said.
Training and keeping skilled workers in the North Country, the declining population here, and regulations were the main concerns expressed by business leaders present.
"Regulations on the town and state level are killing us," Richard Carrier, owners of Milan Lumber, as well as HHP Inc. in Henniker, said.
He said he had been trying to expand his Milan facility for seven months and all he has for all the money he's spent is a pile of paper, not one new job created yet.
Carrier said there are several family members involved in the business and it was discouraging them from continuing in it.
State Senator Jeff Woodburn agreed there were some issues. He noted DES regulations required dumpsters be emptied at least every seven days.
"We do some things up here the state doesn't understand. We empty the garbage when it's full," he said. "We need to focus on what a regulation is actually trying to accomplish."
"We're working on shortening permit time," Hassan added.
A lot of discussion was spent on education-related topics.
Michael Alberts of New England Wire Technologies in Lisbon talked about a school to work program his company has with Profile, Littleton and Lisbon High Schools. Presently they have 63 students participating in actual jobs at the company.
"They find out businesses have a job for them to do when they graduate," he said. "Sixty percent of the students (who participate in the program) pursue careers in that field (that they worked in)."
Alberts noted with many manufacturing jobs not everything can be taught on line, and for those skills students have to go to schools in the southern part of the state.
His company has the equipment necessary and the people to teach the skills. "We could teach these programs for the state," he said.
"We're trying to figure out what we can do on-line and what we actually need on site," Kathy Eneguess, President of White Mountain Community College, said.
On that note, Robert Chapman, whose business, Chapman Container, has been involved in cleaning the site of the old paper mill in Groveton, questioned the recent decision to stop providing the diesel mechanics program at White Mountain Community College.
"We need diesel mechanics up here. Right now we're calling them out of Portland. We would like to keep them up here," he said. "I'm sure Richard (Carrier) would agree."
Another issue brought up was the perception of residents here that you must leave the area to get a good job and get ahead.
"We haven't been able to sell what we have here," Paul Robitaille, former Gorham selectman, said. "We need to do a better job."
Rose said a new state initiative at rest stops was not only to promote vacation attractions, but also to point out that visitors could also stay and do business here.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier said he saw the shrinking population here as a real problem that was going to be have to be turned around soon, within, he estimated, 7-8 years. He said there was 324 students in his graduating class. There was 96 in the class of 2013.
Of those who graduated, he said he estimates about 75 percent either join the military or leave for college elsewhere, leaving few who stay here to work.
"The disconnect between education and the work force is a national concern. We can carve out New Hampshire solutions and lead," Hassan said. "I tell school children, when people were settling this state, they were settling a state of granite."