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Business leaders lay out challenges of doing business in New Hampshire



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Business leaders from around the region listed off what's working and what's not at a round-table discussion with the BIA, a business lobbying group, on Thursday. (Photo by Erik Eisele) (click for larger version)
June 30, 2010
BERLIN — Representatives from the Business and Industry Association, which lobbies for businesses in Concord, came to Berlin on Thursday to find out what forces impact North Country businesses.

BIA president Jim Roche and BIA lobbyist Michael Licata met with business owners, managers, nonprofit executives, economic development specialists and local representatives to find out what issues are most important to them, in order to lay out BIA policy positions for the next year.

"Has the New Hampshire business climate gotten better?" Mr. Roche asked the group of about 15 that gathered at Isaacson Structural Steel. "Has it gotten worse?"

He asked the group to try to differentiate between the challenging global economic times and those things that were New Hampshire-centric.

Health insurance, said Gary Armitage of the Balsams Resort, will be the biggest hurdle in the coming year. The increase his company is facing is "staggering," he said. "Next year's going to be a real challenge."

The region also has a surplus of workers, Mr. Armitage said, but many of them don't have the skills required for the jobs the company has.

Kathy Eneguess, of White Mountains Community College, said some recent graduates with degrees in nursing are finding it hard to find work. The college is seeing a rise in people coming back for second degrees, she said.

Stewart Shaw, of Shaw Communications in Gorham, said he's watched as business has dropped off significantly several years ago. "People just aren't spending," he said.

Robert Munce, of Munce's Oil, said something as fickle as the weather affected his business. The good weather this spring meant more customers, he said, while the rainy summers the last several years kept things quiet.

Androscoggin Valley economic development director Max Makaitis said obtaining financing has been tough for small businesses, making it difficult to expand and grow.

Mr. Roche told the group that while the BIA has been hearing complaints about health insurance for some time they are not in a position to do much about it.

"If this is a titanic," he said, referring to health insurance, "we're in a canoe."

Mr. Licata took down every one of the group's observations, positive or negative. Everyone was then given three stickers to put next to the three most pressing issues. Based on those results, Mr. Roche said, along with similar input from business leaders around the state, the BIA would determine where to focus it's efforts.

The cost of health insurance, the difficulty of financing and the lack of contracts were the three most prominent negatives listed.

The BIA will determine its policy priorities along five tracks, Mr. Roche said: fiscal policy; economic development; human resources, health care and workforce development; energy and regulated utilities; environmental affairs.

The input, he said, will go through a four step, four month process, which includes a survey and other round-table sessions, to work out exactly what they will be pushing in Concord.

"We lobby for a living," he said, but the BIA has to know what issues the businesses they represent care about so they can represent their interests effectively.

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