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Area business leaders discuss challenges

July 02, 2009
LINCOLN—Representatives of local chambers of commerce gathered together at the Lin-Wood Chamber of Commerce last week to discuss the legislative session and business challenges.

The meeting was one of 14 being held throughout the state and sponsored by Business and Industry Association (BIA).

Jim Roche, BIA's president, facilitated the roundtable and started by reviewing some of the bills that came before the Legislature this year. Roche said the idea of the BIA was to reach out to the business community to ask businesses what issues they wanted representation on.

The roundtable was part of a process through which BIA puts information together to gather that knowledge. The 14 roundtable discussions were the first step in gathering information, then surveys will be sent out to the BIA's membership based on topics of discussion, followed by a gathering of the information and presenting it in a form of a report that will help legislators know BIA's priorities in Concord.

"Our priorities are what happens in Concord, rarely what happens at the federal level and never at the local level," Roche said.

This year, BIA opposed key issues such as a capital gains tax and an estate tax, both of which were in earlier versions of the budget. They were not in the version that passed last week, which BIA supported, Roche noted.

"It wasn't perfect but it could have been a lot worse for business," Roche said.

He said an issue not addressed this year of key importance is the under funding of Medicaid, which means healthcare costs are passed on to employers and individuals.

Chad Stearns, the executive director of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce said the most common request his chamber gets is help with managing healthcare costs.

Bob Tortorice, vice-president of the Franconia Notch Chamber of Commerce and owner of Building Alternatives, in Franconia, said from his point of view property assessors are the big problem this year. A house that costs $400,000 to build might cost $300,000, forcing the owner to come up with $100,000 since the bank wouldn't cover the difference.

Mark LaClair, executive director of the Lin-Wood Chamber, noted that increasing taxes are going to be a big threat to area businesses struggling to survive.

An issue of great importance to his chamber members is gambling, LaClair said. He noted that Lincoln has been proposed as a possible site for a casino and that one of the most ardent proponents, Rep. Edmond Gionet, lives in Lincoln.

"There are a lot of folks who want it here and some want it never," LaClair said.

His chamber has not taken a position on it one way or another.

Tortorice said his chamber has not taken a position on gambling either.

"I'm not sure if our chamber is for against," he said.

Several people mentioned that there might be more support this year for a broad based tax, such as an income or sales tax. In the past the BIA has always opposed these taxes, Roche said.

"Maybe that will change this year," Roche said.

Roche noted that businesses are the single biggest source of revenue for state government and he doesn't think legislators understand what they are doing when they propose even higher taxes on them.

"Various regulations and issues make doing business in New Hampshire more difficult," he said. "A lot of legislators have no concept of what it means to run a business."

A lot of businesses don't think the state understands the current fiscal crisis, he said. Businesses are having to cut costs by up to 40 percent in order to survive, while the state is not doing its fair share cutting its own costs, Roche said.

On flip charts, participants were asked to rate the most important issues facing the state and business. The most important issue was finding additional state revenue sources. Other issues of importance were healthcare costs and affordable housing, so people can work in the area and grow businesses.

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