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Small businesses slowly dusting off application forms

August 11, 2010
LAKES REGION — According to the U.S. Department of Labor, New Hampshire has the second-fastest growing job rate in the nation, yet many smaller local businesses are still struggling when it comes to hiring.

Statistics show that 8,900 jobs have been created over the last year, from June 2009 to June 2010. Annette Nielsen of the Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau for the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security said the employment rate for the region is going in the right direction compared to a few years ago and should improve as the summer goes on.

In June 2009, the unemployment rate in New Hampshire went from 6.2 to 6.4 percent in and June 2010 from 6.4 to 5.9 percent.

"This is good and not good. These rates are higher than normal levels for New Hampshire we are not used to these high levels of unemployment, yet compared to the rest of the country, it's not bad," said Nielsen.

Job growth is happening, but many people still find themselves unemployed, with businesses still in the process of recovering financially and racking up clientele or customers again before investing in help.

In the Lakes Region, some businesses are doing better than last year, and thanks to the weather more costumers are coming into their stores, meaning longer hours and a need for extra employees.

Nielsen said the true test for the Lakes Region will come in September, when the summer season is over, and the improved job growth trend will either continue to grow or taper off.

Lee's Candy Kitchen in Meredith, unlike many other local businesses, has maintained their success and number of employees over the past two years.

Owner of Lee's Candy Kathy Fagan said the fact that she is a small business also means she doesn't need a boatload of help.

"We have been appropriately staffed for the summer. We have very busy times in here, but you can't staff for one hour of extreme busyness. We are well covered," said Fagan.

Having owned different businesses at different times of her life, Fagan said she is familiar with economic trends and considers herself fortunate at this point in time.

Tilton owner of Pat's This and That, Pat Mountfort, is on the opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to hiring help. Although Mountfort's husband helps her move heavier products around the store from time to time, she can't afford to hire an extra hand and does most of the work herself.

"I would love to hire employees but I can't. I'm the owner and I do all the work. I'm at the point where I pay the bills and I make ends meet. That's how it is right now," said Mountfort.

She said many people still fork out money for savvy gadgets at retail stores, yet when they come into her store it seems they are much more conservative with their money.

If business picks up, Mountfort said she would happily hire an employee or two.

Janice Jurta, owner of the Countrybraid in Tilton, said she hasn't been doing the same business she did three years ago, and because of this, she has cut her workforce in half.

"I'd like to say it is getting better, but I don't know what it will take," said Jurta, who noted that many small businesses in downtown Tilton are struggling. "Larger businesses have larger resources."

Gilford's Dynamic Ceramics owner Cindy Marquis said she now works alone six days a week. She had to let all her employees go, and although business is still steady, she said that without the extra help, her job can be tiring.

"I always had two part-time employees for 10 years. Now it's me, myself, and I," said Marquis. "I think anyone who owns a business is struggling. I'm hoping it will eventually get better."

She said the summer months have still been successful and kids birthday parties and word of mouth promotion has kept her business steady enough to continue on.

Last year, Piche's Ski Shop in Gilford had to let several employees go, but they just recently hired four employees back.

Rob Bolduc runs Piche's Belmont print shop along with his brother and said July of the previous year into last winter was the hardest time for his business. Now that larger orders are coming in, there is a need again for more staff members, and a means to hire them back.

He said that Piche's Outlet store in Belmont has remained steady throughout the years, with no increases or decreases in employment, because most people are attracted to the discount prices.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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