By New Hampshire State Senator Bob Odell
Governor John Lynch was in Claremont last week hosting the first in a series of Jobs Cabinet Roundtables to be held around the state. Some area employers and civic leaders were invited to sit down and discuss the employment picture in our area with the Governor, Labor Commissioner George Copadis, Employment Security Commissioner Tara Reardon, Commissioner George Bald of the Department of Resources and Economic Development and other Concord officials. Senator Matt Houde (Plainfield) and I were also asked to participate.
The Governor is following the pattern of his successful Jobs Roundtables three years ago. And he took action on some of the suggestions he heard then and restarted the job training fund and encouraged the legislature to create the research and development tax credit and NH HealthFirst.
The economic environment has certainly changed since 2006. The Governor kicked off the meeting saying: “My priorities are helping our businesses grow and become more competitive; helping families struggling in these tough times; and continuing to make government more responsive and efficient.”
What was the overriding theme of the discussion with employers? There are jobs that need to be filled but finding qualified employees is not easy. Qualified means a prospective employee has technical skills but also life skills. Life skills include being presentable at an interview, getting to work every day and on time, working hard in the workplace, no violations of rules on drug and alcohol use and many others. At least five employers cited the lack of these basic personal attributes as why they cannot find workers to fill current openings. The same situation is raised at every business meeting and plant tour I take.
To reduce or eliminate this problem will take decades. But it needs to be addressed if our region is going to be competitive in the United States and around the world.
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I have enjoyed going to the annual Sarah Josepha Hale Award at the Newport Opera House for more than 20 years. As I look at the list of New England authors honored with the Hale award since the award was first given to Robert Frost in 1956, the list has many of the greatest writers and poets of the last half century.
In my time I remember Tom Wicker talking about the focus of one his books, the historic year of 1968. And William Manchester who I always think of as the biographer of Winston Churchill but in his Hale presentation he read dramatic passages from his book on his experiences as a soldier in the Korean War. Ernest Hebert before becoming a novelist had worked as a lineman out of a utility substation right in Newport. He said he wrote to lift up the working person, often those at the bottom of the job ladder.
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the first African American to win the Hale award which was presented to him recently. Not simply reading from one of his books, he went high tech using a computer generated presentation that awed the large crowd. He told the story of his family within the context of genealogy and the use of DNA to trace a person’s heritage. Thanks to DNA he traces his own heritage several generations back to an Irishman and an English woman. While he heads the African American studies program at Harvard University, he is just barely African American genetically. He is 49.4% white and 50.6% black.
Using stories from his own PBS series, “African American Lives, Their Past Was Lost Until Now,” Professor Gates’ fact filled presentation was a real change from traditional acceptance speeches. And I think it will be long remembered.
Professor Gates, in his answer to a question from the audience, let us know he is in regular contact with the Cambridge, MA police officer who arrested him. And that they drank cold Sam Adams beer at their White House meeting with President Barack Obama.
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One satisfaction for legislators is to see that legislation they worked to pass is having a real impact.
In February, 2005, I was the prime sponsor of legislation (Senate Bill 5) to create a study committee to look at the operations and finances of our state parks system. The bill passed without dissension and was signed into law in June, 2005.
I chaired what became known as the “SB 5 study committee.” We traveled around the state and collected data on the park system and produced a report. The recommendations included state funding for capital improvements, creation of a bureau of historic sites and a State Parks Advisory Council. In the last biennial budget, there was the first appropriation of funds for capital improvements in 40 years. Another appropriation is in the current budget. The historic sites bureau is up and running and the State Parks Advisory Council meets regularly and has substantial input to the department on important park system policies and long range planning.
In my first term, I was asked to chair a study committee on school drop outs. There were many important issues that came before the committee but the overriding one, surprisingly, was that we could not track school children. They were being lost.
The proposed answer was a unique student identification number. I co-sponsored legislation introduced by Senator Jane O’Hearn (Nashua) to create this number. At a meeting of the Statewide Education Improvement and Assessment Program Legislative Oversight Committee, on which I serve, the Department of Education reported that the student number system is working and giving local school officials a new tool to measure progress and make adjustments in their curriculum and programming. And we also know where to find our students.
NH State Senator Bob Odell (District 8) is chairman of Ways and Means, a member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee, and the Finance Committee. Senate District 8 comprises: 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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