SHELBURNE — Training and keeping skilled workers in the North Country was the main concern of business leaders Wednesday who attended the business roundtable at the Town and Country Motor Inn in Shelburne.
Gov. Maggie Hassan and Jeffrey Rose, commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development Commission, organized the roundtable, which was attended by close to three dozen North Country business owners and local government officials.
"We've been doing these roundtables for awhile, focusing on manufacturing, our biggest industry," Hassan said. "It's important to keep manufacturing here. We need jobs that are high quality. We're hoping to hear what kind of skill sets you need."
Hassan said schools need to look at different ways to provide education, online as well as on-site, and that included programs for grades K-12. She said she has appointed a task force to look at strengthening STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the state's schools.Other initiatives have included: the research and development tax credit, capped at a per business amount; improving technical assistance to businesses in the area of international trade; and ordering that all state forms needed by businesses be put online in one location.
Noting how the cost of energy affected operations at Gorham Paper and Tissue, Hassan said she has signed an energy approach agreement with the governors of the other New England states.
"I know there's amazing work being done up here," she said, citing the natural gas fuel stations being proposed in Gorham and Groveton and the proposed redevelopment of the Balsams resort. "I plan to come up here as often as I can," she said.
Richard Carrier, owners of Milan Lumber, as well as HHP Inc. in Henniker, told Hassan that he has been trying to expand his Milan facility for seven months and that all he has for all the money he's spent is a pile of paper. He has been unable to add any new jobs.
"Regulations on the town and state level are killing us," Carrier said.
Carrier said there are several family members involved in the business, and it was discouraging them from continuing in it.
State Sen. Jeff Woodburn agreed there were some issues. He noted DES regulations required commercial trash bins be emptied at least every seven days.
"We do some things up here they don't understand. We empty the garbage when it's full," he said. "We need to focus on what a regulation is actually trying to accomplish."
A lot of discussion was spent on education-related topics.
Michael Alberts of New England Wire in Lisbon talked about a school-to-work program his company has with Profile, Littleton and Lisbon High Schools. Presently they have 63 students participating in jobs at the company.
"They find out businesses have a job for them to do when they graduate," he said. "Sixty percent of the students (who participate in the program) pursue careers in that field (that they worked in)."
Alberts noted with many manufacturing jobs not everything can be taught online, and for those skills students have to go to schools in the southern part of the state.
His company has the equipment necessary and the people to teach the skills. "We could teach these programs for the state," he said.
"We're trying to figure out what we can do online and what we actually need on site," said Kathy Eneguess, President of White Mountain Community College.
On that note, Robert Chapman, whose business, Chapman Container, has been involved in cleaning the site of the old paper mill in Groveton, questioned the recent decision to stop providing the diesel mechanics program at White Mountain Community College.
"We need diesel mechanics up here. Right now we're calling them out of Portland. We would like to keep them up here," he said. The perception on the part of those who live here that you have to leave to get a good job and get ahead, was brought up by several attendees.
"There's a feeling up here that you must leave to get a good job," Eneguess said. "Job matchmaking is something we work really hard on."