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21/21 makes another appearance at City Hall


August 19, 2009
BERLIN — The 21/21 economic development initiative got a bit of a face lift, but it is on the table to be adopted by the city council.

Economic development director Norm Charest changed some of the wording to better reflect who should drive implementation of the plan.

"In order for this to initiative to wok it's going to need the buy-in of the citizens," Mr. Charest told the council. Residents and local businesses are going to be the drivers that carry Berlin's rebranding as a outdoor recreation destination forward.

The plan capitalizes on ATVing and snowmobiling first, and other outdoor recreation as the infrastructure builds, to provide a draw to the area. Tourism can be the next economic engine in Berlin, according to the initiative.

"Tourism can be good and it can be bad," Mr. Charest said. He doesn't envision burger joints and tourist traps. "We want quality experiences, unique experiences. I want these experiences to be world class."

The term "world class" was added to the resolution put before the council to adopt the initiative. It had its first reading at the meeting; a public hearing was scheduled for Sept. 8.

Mr. Charest said he would create a task force to implement the initiative, linking 21/21 with all the other groups involved in similar development work.

Councilor Ryan Landry asked Mr. Charest what the plan was to change the city's negative image in the southern part of the state. Mr. Charest said he didn't have a plan for specifics. Such things would be up to the task force, he said.

Mayor David Bertrand said he also thought marketing would have to be a big part of any initiative like this.

And the council did hear about some marketing for the region, but not from 21/21. Beno Lamontagne, from New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, and Nancy Clark, from the Glen Group, a marketing agency from North Conway, explained their plans to create a marketing plan for the North Country, with an event planned for Jericho Mountain State Park specifically.

Ms. Clark said she is working on a two day event, tentatively planned for July 10 and 11, to show off the park and increase its exposure.

"Our hope is to work closely with the city on where to stay and where to eat," she said.

Chris Gamache from New Hampshire Trails said they would hopefully have temporary camping in place by the event, but otherwise they would route people to Moose Brook State Park in Gorham.

"I'd rather you kept them in Berlin," said Councilor Landry.

Mr. Gamache said it would be a year or more before a permanent campground would be built at the park.

The council voted to allow the school department to reallocate money for capital investment projects around the district. It also voted to authorize a joint loan/grant from USDA Rural Development for water system improvements. The council also decided to postpone its scheduled Labor Day meeting to Tuesday, Sept. 8, instead of holding it on Monday, Sept. 7.

Berlin's 21/21 Initiative

When considering this initiative, it's good to remind ourselves that tourism is the State's

second largest economic sector and that tourism accounts for about 20% of Cos County's economy but is only 4% of Berlin's economic base. Being surrounded by tourism enhances efforts by Berlin to tap into this existing regional economic sector. It has also been demonstrated that tourism becomes a vehicle that brings potential investors into a community. Company owners are first introduced to a community as tourists and if their experiences are positive, they often return bringing their companies. A State survey reports that 13% of all businesses that re-located to New Hampshire was a result of the owner/CEO first being a tourist. This is more productive and successful than direct company recruitment.

The goal of the 21/21 Initiative is to transform the economic and social fabric of Berlin from that of a 20th century heavy manufacturing community, to that of a 21st century center of commerce based on unique outdoor recreational experiences in an urban setting.

With the Androscoggin River in its downtown, Berlin is surrounded by the beauty of the

White Mountains with Mount Forest as its signature icon. With several major ski areas within a 30 to 45 minute drive, the White Mountain National Forest within its boundaries, hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails and the State ATV Park all near downtown Berlin, opportunities for outdoor recreation is the low hanging fruit for a new economy for the City. Where Berlin once stood as the economic center of the region because of its paper mills, the City can once again regain its economic health and stature by reinventing itself as a user friendly, "place to go" outdoor recreation destination. Once the City begins to develop its new outdoor recreation infrastructure, the private sector will the lead the way and invest in the community. The results will be that Berlin will see its tax base grow and the new economy will provide jobs and economic opportunities for its citizens.

Berlin can become the premier outdoor recreation community in New Hampshire, by first focusing on motor sports. Imagine creating a community where you can drive up to a municipal parking lot in a downtown/urban setting, roll your ATV or snowmobile off your trailer, jump on the machine, go around the block for a meal and then head-off to a trail or to the State Park. In time and when our tourism infrastructure is fully developed, the visitors will stay at our local hotels/motels/B&B's for days and travel all over the North Country, without ever having to trailer their machines. This would be the type of positive experience that Roger Brooks talks about, something you can't do at home or within 2 hours from home and is memorable.

Linking trails at Success with the existing trail systems as well as Jericho Mountain State Park, would provide hundreds of miles of riding opportunities with the unique experience of driving back to downtown restaurants, shops and other conveniences. This type of unique experience can only evolve in an urban setting where the existing infrastructure includes everything from churches to movie theaters to hospitals. Berlin is uniquely qualified to become the most popular outdoor recreational destination in New England. Our efforts should be tailored to the needs of the active generation and their families, who love the outdoors, but also want the convenience, comfort, safety and variety found only in an urban setting.

Berlin already has most of the infrastructure in place for this new economy, what it needs is a new vision of itself and a change of focus. Many of our existing businesses can modify and expand their operations to entice the new customer base: it's everything from product line to operating hours. The 21/21 Initiative will be led by a Task Force of visionary citizens and entrepreneurs who given the opportunity, will transform and revitalize the City from within. For its part, city government will facilitate the process by helping to remove barriers to the transformation and create incentives rewarding investments.

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