New Hampshire Public Radio’s program, The Exchange, sat down with Commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs Taylor Caswell to talk about the major moving parts happening right now in the New Hampshire economy.
This will be a recap of some of the major points Caswell made, but you can also listen to the full show here.
Education and the New Hampshire Economy
Governor Chris Sununu’s second inaugural address included talks of the New Hampshire Career Academy, which would enable high school students to earn a tuition-free associate degree.
State community colleges, high schools and employers would partner together to help students gain the necessary skills they need to work in certain fields. Currently, this plan has been working for the past year at Spaulding High School in Rochester.
“Our ability to deliver a highly qualified workforce is imperative,” Caswell said. “The way we do that is by creating pathways. We actively engage employers, state policy makers and academic institutions to create legitimate pathways that line workforce and people up to participate in the high gross sectors that we’re seeing in the state of New Hampshire.”
He says that these pathways are intended to take a student and give them a route to jobs in the state.
“Companies will always need to be able to find that workforce that is already here, and it is always easier to create a pathway from people who are already here,” Caswell said.
At Spaulding High School, this program is aimed at students who want to work in composites manufacturing. But down the road, Caswell said he hopes to see the program opened up to more areas of study, like liberal arts.
“We talk all the time about the creative economy in New Hampshire, and how that adds to the human experience and the community experience that we want to be able to build as part of that message to get people to come here,” he says. “That it’s not just a sterile set of strip malls all over the place; that we actually have an interaction and an appreciation for the arts and the creativity that comes from that.”
The flip side of that is the high cost of education in New Hampshire, which has some of the highest tuitions for state schools in the nation.
“The cost of education is definitely something that drags on the economy,” Caswell said. “One of the things that I’m pretty interested in is the ability of the community colleges to link their programs to the four-year institutions that we have in the state. We want to create those pathways again that start with that two-year degree and continue on to the four year institution.”
New Hampshire has seen a wave of younger people leaving the state over the past decade, but in recent years, they’ve started to come back. Caswell explained why he thinks that is.
“We have a really compelling combination here in New Hampshire. If you’re someone in your late 20s or early 30s – and you have an appreciation for winter, first of all, – we have a great combination of communities with different experiences, and good jobs in all of those places,” he said. “Secondly, we have a very strong economy right now. We’re seeing a lot of companies making investments and creating high-paying jobs. And honestly, our proximity to Boston doesn’t hurt us, either.”
Prospects are looking good for young professionals, but entrepreneurs have plenty of resources to help them grow, too.
“The type of entrepreneurial environment that we have in New Hampshire is incredible,” Caswell said. “The point that I’d like to make is that there are so many great pieces to the economic infrastructure of the state. Support organizations, colleges and universities, regional support…they are doing fabulous work.”
Strengthening the Economy
New Hampshire used to have a Department of Resource and Economic Development, but it split off to create a specific Department of Business and Economic Affairs.
“One of the reasons we created this department was to give a singular focus on the issues of business and economic and community development,” he said. “One of the things we haven’t had in the state for a while is a very long-term plan or strategy, and we’re actually in the midst of that right now, putting together a 10-year plan for the state.”
One aspect that continues to pose a challenge is housing, and the lack of it in the state to support business development.
“I think the first thing we need to do is address regulatory barriers to help to build affordable, appropriate housing around the state,” Caswell said. “The more we’re able to include that in our conversation around the future economy for the state, the better we’re going to be.”
Caswell said New Hampshire’s history of local control is both a strength and a weakness.
“I think we need to be able to look at these issues from a regional standpoint and say, ‘Not every community can have a great industrial park, a really cool downtown, the Walmarts and the retail stores and all of the pieces that increasingly are done on a more regional basis.’ We need to have honest conversations on how we’re going to get to the end point of creating the housing to house the workforce we need for the state.”
Incentivizing State Businesses
Caswell also talked about business incentives for companies like BAE Systems and Lonza Biologics. The state put together a deal that will reduce their upfront capital cost for the investment that they’re going to make and the jobs that they’re going to create. At the end of 10 years, they’re on the hook to pay that back.
“These deals are more effectively described as loans than they are incentives,” he said. “If it’s an incentive to get them to move to NH and expand and create jobs then yes, they are incentives. But there are no tax dollars that are involved in the BAE deal or the Lonza deal per se, as it relates to the lease back program we have where they are able to effectively get some lower cost of capital on the front end than any other state.”
Caswell explained that businesses in the state do not get special deals.
“When we talk to businesses looking to come to the state we say, ‘We’re a state that has no income tax, no sales tax, we have a very positive tax environment, business environment, we have all the aspects that you’re looking for. But we’re not going to give you any more of a special deal than anyone else is able to get when they move here.’”
As long as there are bond caps and money available, Caswell said, any business can talk to the state about assistance for their business.
“BAE and Lonza came to us with a really big opportunity to make some significant investments in the state, and so we went and talked with them and negotiated out this approach that we have,” he said.