NH’s economy: good news balanced by challenges

Capital Comments from Senator Bob Odell

“Crossover” or midpoint in the 2012 session, was finished a week earlier amidst some of the busiest legislative days of the year.  That meant last week there were too few bills ready for either the House or Senate to meet.

A Wednesday not in Concord is very rare.  The day off gave me an opportunity to participate in an economic development breakfast in Newport hosted by Sugar River Bank in partnership with Public Service of New Hampshire.

The event brought out a roomful of business and community leaders to hear a presentation by PSNH’s Patrick McDermott on the status of the New Hampshire economy.  And while the recovery from the recession is slow, there are some positive long term indicators of the state’s economy and our quality of life.

Building on data in PSNH’s annual New Hampshire Economic Review, Mr. McDermott pointed out that the state is ranked first in the nation measured by indices including standard of living based on poverty rates, child and family well being and most livable state.  New Hampshire ranks high in other important national measures including percentage of residents with a college education (9th), per capita income (10th), healthiest (3rd) and lowest crime rate (4th).

There are challenges, too, that balance out all the good news.  The price of homes sold has steadily declined taking away wealth from homeowners.  The state is aging and some worry we are falling behind proportionately in the number of people living here in their prime working years.

Putting a local focus on the economic development conversation, Mark Pitkin, President and CEO of Sugar River Bank, pointed out that anyone doing business or wishing to do business in our area has plenty of partners.  Financial institutions, local government officials and legal and accounting professionals stand ready to help start-up, re-locating or expanding businesses.

Two days after the breakfast, the most recent national unemployment numbers were released.  New Hampshire had a 5.2 percent unemployment rate, the 5th lowest in the country.

Overall, given the recession, New Hampshire is doing well for a state without a natural resource base like Texas, North Dakota and some other states.  Manufacturing employs five percent of the workforce.  That puts us 9th in the country.  Wisconsin is the leading manufacturing state with 7.6 percent of its workforce in manufacturing.  Manufacturing is strengthening as some low cost developing regions of the world are facing increasing labor and energy costs and our firms innovate to cut costs and improve productivity.

Another meaningful statistic:  between 2005 and 2010, exports to other countries of New Hampshire products grew by 71.4 percent.  That was nearly double the US rate (39.3 percent).

It is easy to point out the economic problems the nation and the state face.  But New Hampshire has a long track record of strong economic activity.  In nearly every measure, going back many years, New Hampshire has led other New England states.  We know much work lies ahead but New Hampshire is well positioned for a strong economy in the future.

Roymal’s Roy Malool offered a perspective on our situation.  Having just returned from a business trip to Russia, he reminded the breakfast audience of how thankful we should be to live and do business in America and especially in New Hampshire.  Too often we bemoan our situation and I wonder how well we would do as business people in a society filled with corruption, other business crimes and a lack of the rule of law.  Roy’s reminder of the uniqueness of America was well timed and most appropriate.

*****

It was a coincidence that on Saturday Judy and I were repairing the fence around a chicken yard that has been unused for three years.  For nearly twenty years, there were half a dozen or so chickens that produced an abundance of eggs and joy as one went about the daily feeding and watering of the hens and the collecting of their eggs.

Earlier in the week, a bill (House Bill 1231) was before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that would change the law that currently restricts the sale of chicks, ducklings, goslings and rabbits to no fewer than 12 when the animal is less than four weeks of age.  The bill would lift the restriction and make New Hampshire compatible with surrounding states.

A woman from Derry who raises poultry said she would like to buy two birds of a rare species but she and the seller would break the law if they did so.  It was also reported that Concord allows a homeowner to raise up to five chickens.  A purchaser of just five young birds would break the law.

Having a small hen-house and fenced in yard, I do not think in all the years we had chickens that we had a dozen.  We bought a few chickens from friends and once in a while went to folks who have varieties of birds to buy a couple to bring variety to the flock.  So, over and over again, I was a law-breaker.

The committee saw the value of changing a law that was out-of-date and quickly voted an “ought to pass” recommendation on HB 1321.  I am confident we will help those raising a few young chickens to move from breaking the law to legally pursuing their hobby.

Senator Odell represents New Hampshire Senate District 8:  Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.

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