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Economic Development Committee holds forum on future of Wolfeboro

Selectman Sarah Silk shares ideas on Wolfeboro’s future at the Wolfeboro Economic Development Committee’s May 17 forum held at the Wolfeboro Inn, as New Hampshire Boat Museum Board Chair Hank Why listens. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
May 20, 2010
WOLFEBORO — The Wolfeboro Economic Development Committee (EDC) brought 50 residents together in the ballroom on the Wolfeboro Inn on Monday night, May 17, to discuss Wolfeboro's economic possibilities and to establish priorities.

EDC Chairman Frank Giebutowski said he was pleased at the representation of the business community and town government, including Town Manager Dave Owen, Town Planner Rob Houseman, and a mix of selectmen and members of other town boards.

Economic development consultants Roger Hawk and Stuart Arnett first presented an economic picture of Wolfeboro before directing a random division of attendees into groups to examine what they see as the town's internal and external challenges and opportunities.

Arnett said that in past decades, New Hampshire as a low tax state showed a steady growth in the southern tier and could count on its natural resources as a draw, but that trend is not moving forward. Instead, he said, we're moving backwards and need leadership to start growing again.

The population in the Winnipesaukee region is older than the rest of the state, according to Arnett, who relied on information from the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security. The number of residents receiving Social Security in 2000 was eight to 10 percent above the number in Carroll County, the state, and the United States. The average weekly pay is below average, lagging behind total income.

A loss of 132 jobs was recorded between 2005 and 2008, with figures from late 2007 to 2010 showing Wolfeboro at the bottom or near the bottom of the region surrounding the lake, but not "as bad as elsewhere in the state," said Arnett. Seasonal employment lowers the unemployment rate by 50 to 70 jobs every summer.

The "winners" among the different economic sectors – unsurprising, considering the older population – are healthcare, recreation, and arts and entertainment. Government also represents a substantial part of the employment picture, including the public school system and professional and technical services. Real estate shows less strength than the others, but it is a factor in the current economy.

Statistics reveal that Wolfeboro has one of the lowest tax rates in the state (18th out of 234 towns), a net per capita valuation that ranks 16th highest out of the 234 towns, with residential land valuation 10 times the nonresidential.

Hawk pointed out Wolfeboro's assets: a strong tax base, good services and a steady economy; its location; a core of entrepreneurs; an "authentic" brand (well known as the oldest summer resort); and its small size, which contributes to the formation of networks within the community and access to each other. Brewster Academy, Huggins Hospital and the Governor Wentworth Regional School District contribute to the town's stability.

The flip side is that lower wages contrast with higher property values, which tends to push young people out; the strong tax base is reliant on residential property; the entrepreneurs are mostly independent and do not contribute intellectual innovation; and the small, neighborly community also represents a limited applicant pool for economic development. And the authentic brand is a single brand. There is no diversification.

He suggested that there is potential, considering the attractiveness of the area, for higher education, perhaps relating to the lake and environmental or aquatic concerns. The challenge is to form a collective vision, attract and keep businesses and reconstruct the downtown, including solving the parking problems.

Attendees, separated into groups to discuss internal and external challenges and opportunities, participated in lively brainstorming discussions, established their top three priorities, and then shared them with the rest of the participants.

Giebutowski thanked everyone for their ideas, which were collected and will be analyzed to take the planning process a step further. He said that the EDC is working with a two-year timeline. Voters, private donors and the business community have supported its efforts so far, but it will need further financial support as it continues its study. Eventually, he hopes to summarize their data and upload it to the town Web site as a reference guide.

In addition to Giebutowski, EDC membership also includes Vice Chairman Gene Leone, Michael Cooper, Tony Triolo, Denise Roy-Palmer, David Tower, Mary DeVries, Robert Reid and Selectmen's Representative Linda Murray.

Interested in contributing your ideas? The number to call is 569-8161.

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