Plymouth, NH:  by Michael Tentnowski, Leadership Academy Class of 2014 –  The dynamic agenda for the inaugural class of the local Leadership Academy started off with a bang, as Jim Roche, President of the Business & Industry Association (BIA) addressed the group at the newly completed Enterprise Center at Plymouth.   Mr. Roche covered the general mission of the BIA as New Hampshire’s statewide Chamber and business advocacy organization.  He then described the Strategic Economic Development Plan for the state, which includes nine strategic goals that are the focus of BIA’s 2014 activities.plymouth economic development

Upon wrapping up the informative presentation, Jim fielded questions from the group.  Issues such as the Northern Pass project, business taxes, and attracting new companies to New Hampshire were discussed.  One of the more challenging questions arose when a Leadership member asked Mr. Roche if he knew why companies such as Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. are expanding outside the state of New Hampshire.  The answer is complicated of course, but isn’t a shame that we cannot encourage one of the major high-tech manufacturing companies to expand in the very state that helped them win Manufacturer of the Year for seven years in a row?

Following the BIA presentation, a panel of experts representing county-wide economic development, town planning and administration, and a private business developer addressed the challenges and opportunities in the region.  Mark Scarano, Executive Director of the Grafton County Economic Development Council, spoke about all that was happening throughout Grafton County.  The conversation turned into an internal discussion between the panelists, each voicing opinions on topic ranging from town redevelopment to housing and business development.

Michael Capone, Bristol Town Administrator, discussed Bristol’s new downtown beautification project.  This program resulted in new businesses occupying the rehabbed facades, spurring a substantial increase in foot traffic around town.  Additional sidewalks and period lighting adds to the allure and safety of nighttime shoppers.  If you have not visited Bristol lately, you really should stop in and visit all the businesses that weathered the construction phase of the project.  Patronizing these companies would be the best way to show support for small businesses in rural communities.

Then Barry Gaw, Managing Member of Sippican Partners, LLC spoke about leisure development, including the Riveredge Marina which recently recovered from a fire back in April.  The class was impressed with Mr. Gaw’s resilience and positive attitude as the marina was restored back to operational readiness.  He was also optimistic about the economic recovery and stronger housing market, as the Squam River Landing development is proceeding nicely in Ashland.

After a short break, tourism was in the spotlight.  A panel discussion ensued with Jayne O’Conner, President of White Mountain Attractions; Amy Landers, Executive Director of the Lakes Region Association; and Lori Harnois, Director of the NH Division of Travel and Tourism Development.  This panel delivered the perspective of statewide and regional tourism efforts, and the role they play in NH’s economy.  The class learned about the challenges and opportunities that these efforts present.

The class was fascinated with the depth of knowledge and experience that the panel possessed.  One interesting factoid discussed was how using certain idioms by government officials can impact tourism in a significant way.  The example concerned the recent announcement by NH Fish & Game that the moose population is declining in the Granite State.  Although factually accurate, tourism suffered substantially as a result.  It turns out that many visitors come here to seek moose viewing opportunities, as well as ski, hike, engage in water sports, and all the other great activities.

After lunch, a panel of economic development specialists presented to the group.  Kate Luczko, Executive Director of Stay Work Play NH led off with an overview of the organization’s goals and objectives.  Ms. Luczko’s main message was that Stay Work Play attempts to keep NH’s youth in the state.  Benoit Lamontagne, NH Dept. of Resources and Economic development (DRED) spoke about the Buy America Act, and how DRED is working to attract businesses from Canada to locate here.  He spoke about an effort in partnership with PSU to have francophone-friendly business signage and re-training hospitality staff to accommodate Canadian visitors.

Michael Tentnowski, Executive Director of the newly completed Enterprise Center at Plymouth (ECP) talked about the regional economic development effort aimed at small business owners and entrepreneurs.  Mr. Tentnowski agreed that it is important to keep NH’s youth in the state, but emphasized how it is necessary to provide a compelling reason to return to the state as well.  His assertion is that many ambitious youths will seek to explore the “rest of the world”, and then come to realize that New Hampshire is a great place to raise a family and seek to come back.  If there is nothing attractive to return to (business-wise), then these folks will end up settling elsewhere.

Just as Tentnowski was detailing his thoughts, the class was halted by a surprise visit of a dozen or so dignitaries to the ECP.  Leading the group was Mr. Willie Taylor, Regional Director for the Economic Development Administration (EDA).   Mr. Taylor was up from Philadelphia checking on the new building which was partially funded by the EDA.  In fact, the ECP was featured on this year’s cover of EDA’s national report circulated throughout the Northeast.

Leadership Academy ended the day with a breakout session analyzing the Town of Ashland’s budget proposal, with the ultimate goal of providing recommendations for the community.  Many interesting points were made, and several groups suggested workable initiatives for consideration.  Because this work is intended for a committee to consider and then to present to the public, further elaboration would not be appropriate.

After a full day of exploring regional economic development matters, the class anxiously awaits next month’s program on Health and Healthcare after the New Year.  Happy Holidays New Hampshire!