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Reports show Seacoast economy slowly gaining momentum

Union Leader Correspondent

February 06. 2013 9:15PM

GREENLAND - Things are looking up in the Seacoast real estate market on various fronts, real estate business people say.

Promising signs in residential real-estate, including single-family home and condominium sales, as well as commercial development, as evidenced by the many ongoing projects at Pease International Tradeport, were discussed during the Seacoast Board of Realtors "State of the Seacoast" breakfast Wednesday at Portsmouth Country Club.

Speakers included Cliff Sinnot with the Rockingham Planning Commission; David Mullen, executive director of the Pease Development Authority; Dan Gray of the Coastal Economic Development Corp.; and John Rice, immediate past president of the New Hampshire Board of Realtors.

New Hampshire has stayed below the national average in overall unemployment, and overall Seacoast unemployment rates, as well as in Portsmouth, have been even lower.

But Sinnot said the New Hampshire and Seacoast job markets are not recovering as quickly as the job market nationally.

"We see a flattening. We never went as high in unemployment, but we are not bouncing back quite as fast," Sinnot said.

Housing construction is the bright spot, he said. In 2004-05, the area saw peak permitting for new construction followed by a precipitous decline through 2009, when it bottomed out. Sinnot said there has been an uneven, but improving condition since then.?Although housing prices are coming up, they are still down over 2004-05.

At the same time, rental prices are also going up without a growing supply of units.

Foreclosure deeds are heading in the right direction with an 11 percent decline in Rockingham County compared to last year, and cumulative home sales are up.

Sinnot said the aging New Hampshire population and inattention to infrastructure are the biggest concerns going forward.

Gray pointed out that there are big differences town to town within the county. Although unemployment rates are extremely low in Portsmouth, 12 miles away in Seabrook the unemployment rate is about 9.2 percent, one of the highest rates in the state.

He said that overall New Hampshire has fared well because of a supportive business tax climate, low crime rate and inherent economic engines including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Pease International Tradeport and the coastline.

Mullen talked about the turnaround the tradeport is seeing in vacancy rates and development.

In September 2009, the tradeport had an 18 percent vacancy rate. As of January it was at only 7 percent with some big projects in the works, including Sig Sauer's renovation of the 206,000-square-foot former Celestica building at the Spaulding Turnpike entrance to the tradeport.

There are at least six new construction projects planned also, including the tradeport's first convenience store and gas station.

Sprague Energy is also constructing two new buildings and NextEra Energy, the owners and operators of the Seabrook nuclear power plant are building a 17,000-square-foot disaster recovery facility.

As of Wednesday, 250 companies called the former Air Force base home, covering 4.4 million square feet of space and providing work for 7,800 people. Mullen said the annual wage impact is $500 million.

The one challenge for Pease has been developing the airport.

Rice said that overall things are looking up in housing and condo sales, with sales volume up overall from the previous year and median home prices creeping up.

Realtors in attendance at Wednesday's meeting agreed that things seem to be looking up as witnessed by shorter market times and multiple offers on properties.

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