Increasing gas prices cause anxiety


January 05, 2011
The ramifications of rising gasoline prices is causing concern across the country, but here in northern New Hampshire, where people drive long distances to work and get basic necessities there is some anxiety. The region has been hit hard by the recession losing many of its high-wage manufacturing jobs and has become more reliant on the hospitality industry, whose success is directly linked to gas prices.

Last week, gasoline prices hit a two-year high, rising over $3 per gallon. Some experts are predicting it will be $4 by summer and $5 by 2012.

This news has disturbed some members of the business community. This is yet "another struggle to overcome" said Chad Stearns, Executive Director of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce. "We live in a beautiful part of the state, but it comes with more challenges." Transportation costs are always an obstacle, business leaders say, but this comes at a tough time.

"We are very, very fuel price sensitive up here," said Barry Normandeau, of Normandeau Trucking. Companies like his have some protection against rising fuel prices because they include a fuel escalator in their pricing, but he remembers a few years ago when gas prices spiked. "Our customers," he said, "bore the brunt well, but the economy was doing well, (but since) we have lost 40 percent of the local economy." Smaller, independent truckers, Normandeau said, "have historically bore the brunt of increases. I don't see that being able to happen any longer. (It would be) suicide to their business."

High gas prices could also spell trouble for the hospitality industry. Much of the enormous New England tourism market is a one-day drive from the North Country and the lure is fickle — depending upon many things including weather and gas prices. Nancy Henderson, who, along with her husband Lon, owns the Sunset Hill House in Sugar Hill, said $4 per gallon gasoline would "be devastating." She sees the economy picking up and tourists spending more freely, but there is a limit. "People only have a certain amount to spend," Ms. Henderson said. "Something has to give."

But, Dick Hamilton, a retired tourism official, has more optimistic view. "It won't bother it (local tourism) at all," he said. "Longer trips (by car or airplane) will be hurt by it, shorter trips will not." Eighty-five percent of the people who recreate in this area, he said come from within New England.

Tight-budgeted municipalities worry about the jump in gasoline and diesel prices as snow plows, fire trucks and police cars consume lots of fuel. Lancaster Police Chief John Gardiner expects that his department will exceed its 2010 budget for gasoline, and has asked the town for a $2,000 increase from $12,000 in 2010 to $14,000 in 2011. With an increase in demand for police services, he has no plans to limit the amount of patrolling his officer do. "If they (gas prices) spike too high, we may have to consider that," he said.

High gas prices hit people who are struggling most, said Mark Belanger, manager of the Berlin Employment Security office. In Cos County, the mean travel time to work 22.1 minutes and this number is increasing as unemployed workers look for jobs further and further from home. Price spikes like were seeing, he said, cause a real hardship and makes it nearly unfeasible for Berlin residents to commute an hour away to places like North Conway and Littleton. "They give away all their pay to the pump," Mr. Belanger said.

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