June 20. 2018 10:21PM

How to keep young workers in NH? Loan help, better PR, and friends

New Hampshire Union Leader

Millyard tech workers Matt Sebas, from left, Dana Rich, Dino Bukvic, and Ben Colburn have lunch outside in Manchester on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Providing more affordable housing, helping with student loans and better promoting the state could help keep young adults in New Hampshire, speakers said at a forum Wednesday.

And it wouldn’t hurt if you could find them a friend or two.

A forum on keeping people 20 to 40 in the Granite State offered survey results and ideas from panelists in that age group.

One survey finding showed 21 percent reported they didn’t have a single friend nearby.

“That’s sad on a personal level,” said Will Stewart, executive director of Stay Work Play New Hampshire, a nonprofit that promotes the state as a place for young people and recent college graduates. It’s also “very concerning” for employers trying to retain employees.

“If you don’t have any friends, you don’t have any connections, you don’t have any roots, well then, it might be just a job for you,” Stewart said, making it easier to move to another state.

Many 20- and 30-somethings surveyed were open to moving out of New Hampshire in the next two years. Fourteen percent said they definitely would and 16 percent probably would, with another 22 percent unsure, Stewart said.

Angie Lane, executive director of the Red River Theatres in Concord, said she would be willing to call people and tell them “You have a friend.”

Lane, who’s been involved in networking with young professionals for more than a decade, suggested that people from business, arts and government come together.

“We also need a diverse set of voices, cultures, ages and races,” Lane said at the forum hosted by the New Hampshire College & University Council.

During a question-and-answer period, Debora McCann, director of educational talent search at the University of New Hampshire, said more needs to be done to combat college tuition costs.

“Even in our state university system, it is becoming unaffordable for students to go to school here,” McCann said.

“When students leave the state to go to school and their internships are in other states, they’re getting jobs in other states,” McCann said.

New Hampshire led the nation in average student loan debt, at $36,367, for the Class of 2016, according to the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit that works to make higher education more available and affordable.

“For business and industry, even if your salaries are not really high, if you implement programs that help deal with college debt and try to help students pay off that debt, you are going to attract students to stay in this state,” McCann said.

Jessica Wright, chair of Stay Mount Washington Valley and a member of the Governor’s Millennial Advisory Council, learned about the extent of student loan debt as she was helping to raise money for debt-reduction scholarships. A dozen applicants reported having debt exceeding $700,000.

“Think of all the houses that they’re not buying, the furniture they’re not buying,” Wright said.

Yulya Spantchak, senior strategic learning and evaluation officer with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, examined U.S. Census data regarding people age 25 through 34.

That age group made up 19 percent of the state’s population in 1990, but only 11 percent in 2015.

“I think there is a need for urgency,” she said. “There has been a hemorrhaging of young people out of the state over time.”