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December 13. 2012 11:45PM

Competition for investment means NH needs long reach

LACONIA - If New Hampshire hopes to succeed in attracting foreign investment, the state will have to find creative ways to set itself apart from the competition and develop recruiting campaigns that speak directly to the needs of potential employers.

Just opening up a trade office in a foreign country or staffing a booth at an international trade show isn't going to cut it in the new world of economic development, where competition is becoming more fierce and more sophisticated every day.

Joe Phillips, managing consultant with OCO Global, told a gathering of economic development officials from the public and private sector on Thursday that states with the most aggressive recruiting efforts have been the most successful, on a per capita basis.

"You are now competing to get investment from companies that are not just in places like Massachusetts," he said, "but are on the other side of the world, like China, Europe, even places you would not expect, like Central and South America."

Phillips was keynote speaker at the 17th annual meeting of the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development, where the theme was "Business without Borders." OCO global is a consulting firm specializing in international trade and investment, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with offices in New York, Paris and London.

Phillips, a managing consultant at the firm's New York office, told the crowd of more than 150 economic development professionals gathered at the Lake Opechee Inn Conference Center that efforts to attract new employers to the state have to go beyond vague references to the New Hampshire advantage.

"Investors are drawn to locations that have unique differentiating points that respond to their specific business issues," he said. "It's now less about cost, less about incentives, and more about quality, whether it's quality of the labor force, quality of infrastructure or quality of life."

New Hampshire is very much a part of the international economy, Phillips said, with four of the five major manufacturing enterprises in the state owned by foreign corporations. "We can't just think domestically; we have to think internationally," he said, pointing out that 34 percent of the investment in the U.S. economy comes from overseas.

More states are rising to the challenge when it comes to aggressive international recruiting. Florida, for example, has international offices in Europe, China and India. "Five years ago, you had five to 10 states active in this area, now you have 30," he said. "If Maine is doing it, probably New Hampshire should be as well."

A survey of successful recruiting by state shows New Hampshire in the middle of the pack, with states in the Southeast leading the nation on a per-capita basis.

Jamie Coughlin, CEO at the abi Innovation Hub in Manchester, and one of the speakers on a panel dedicated to recruiting new businesses to a community or state, said New Hampshire has many distinct advantages that have emerged in the past five years, with a growing base of technology companies and a business culture that fosters innovation.

"That is our truest advantage," he said, "the investors, talent and critical mass that now exist. As the world flattens out because of technology, businesses will move here from hubs that cost more and don't have our lifestyle, as long as we have the human capital and creative communities."

During the awards portion of the annual meeting, the Economic Development Division presented its Business of the Year award to Safran, a French aerospace manufacturer building a 275,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing facility in Rochester; and Albany International, an advanced textiles and materials processing company that moved its corporate headquarters from Albany, N.Y., to Rochester in 2010.

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Willis Blevins, general manager of Gorham Paper and Tissue; a Teamwork Award went to the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District for its "doggedness that resulted in the construction of a gas pipeline from the Mount Carberry solid waste landfill to the Gorham paper mill."

The Employer Recognition Award went to Murdawg Custom: Everything Automotive, for being "an outstanding example of an employer who recognizes the contributions workers with disabilities bring to the workplace."

Long-time Union Leader Business Reporter Denis Paiste was honored with a media award for his coverage of economic development in the state.

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.



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