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Opportunity the theme at this year's economic luncheon



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Chad Stearns, executive director of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce, speaking at the beginning of last week’s annual economic luncheon held at the Elks Club. Krystin St. George. (click for larger version)
November 25, 2009
LITTLETON–Flagging economy or not, there are still economic opportunities to be had in the Littleton area, attendees at the 17th Annual Economic Luncheon were told last week.

In fact, opportunity was the theme of the Luncheon, which was held at the Elks Club on Route 302, and attended by several hundred people. The Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC) has for the last few years taken over the annual luncheon from the more informal Littleton Economic Task Force. In the early 1990s, when the Task Force was founded and the luncheon started, participants were working to build up Littleton and its economy. In the late 1990s as things picked up, the luncheon was meant to celebrate and highlight the town's achievements. With the recession, participants were again looking for ways to revive the economy, thus the theme of opportunity throughout the luncheon.

There were several dozen speakers during the two hour event, each limited to two minutes, though a number invariably were longer.

Chad Stearns, the executive director for LACC, welcomed participants, noting the completion of the long awaited Main Street reconstruction project and the seasonal weather.

"It's the first time the weather has matched the season all year," Stearns said of the day's weather.

Neil Stafford, LACC's president, spoke of the chamber's impending move into the recently renovated Littleton Opera House and what an expansive view of Main Street will be had from its offices. Within as week the space in the Opera House that will hold LACC's offices will start to undergo renovations and by late spring LACC will move there from its current location in the Eames Building at the corner of Pleasant and Main Streets.

After that, Stafford said, LACC will begin working to improve the performance venue in the venerable old building. Once that is done, activities on Main Street will increase even more.

Jeff Bartlett, the general manager at WMUR, spoke of his television station's camera that will soon be set up on Main Street, in the vicinity of the JAX Jr. Cinema. It will be aimed in the general direction of the Thayer's Inn, while Executive Councilor Ray Burton spoke of the opportunities provided by federal stimulus money, which he said saved a number of jobs through money spent on various construction projects around the state and his own District 1. What was originally planned to be 245 miles of roads paved this year turned out to be over 700 because of Stimulus funds.

Burton is also a county commissioner and he said the county's priority has been to preserve and create jobs for Grafton County.

Mary Collins, of the Small Business Development Center of New Hampshire, said her organization has been able to put millions into the area's economy. Access to capital remains vital for businesses to survive and grow, she said.

There were a series of business tips presented during the luncheon, including one on first impressions and how important they are.

The theme continued with Warren West, the chief executive officer of Littleton Regional Hospital (LRH), speaking of his facility's contribution to the local economy, noting LRH is the largest employer in the area, with over 400 employees. It is a $100 million annual operation which pays more than $30 million in salaries to employees. He gave an estimate of how each job at LRH creates .75 of another job in the area, meaning LRH is responsible for an additional 300 jobs in the greater Littleton area.

Realtor Andy Smith said the real estate market has been up and down, changing almost by the day. Things are looking better for the Littleton area, however, he said. While prices were down up to 20 percent a year ago, they are only down seven or eight percent, and he is confident they will continue to rebound.

Jere Eames, whose family owns the JAX JR. Cinema, said that the recently finished Main Street reconstruction project is the beautiful frosting on the cake of Littleton. Speaking about self-reliance, he quoted a family saying, "God gives every bird its food but he doesn't throw it in the nest!"

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