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November 11. 2013 9:14PM

Windham advised on encouraging business development

WINDHAM — Local business leaders gathered at Town Hall Thursday night in hopes of catching a glimpse into the town's economic future.

Community Development Director Laura Scott said the idea was to encourage community development in the town as it continues to grow.

"This is a chance for us to get a look at the bigger picture and learn about the most current statistics," Scott said.

Scott added that it's important for people to understand what companies are looking for when considering a new location, as well as what the Windham community can do to be more business-friendly.

About a dozen people attended the forum, held in the Community Development Room.

The keynote speaker was Michael Bergeron, a lead recruiter with the state Department of Resources and Economic Development.

Bergeron said that "in terms of the economy, things are actually looking pretty good right now."

In New Hampshire, unemployment rates continue to decline while manufacturing output is on the rise.

Bergeron said housing prices are "at the best levels since 2006," while the state's housing price average of $200,000 falls a bit lower than the national average.

Windham's home sales are slightly higher than state averages, Bergeron noted.

Consumer goods are also showing an upward trend.

"I think a lot of people were holding off buying things like cars and washing machines, and now we're seeing a trend in general consumer goods. Things are wearing out," Bergeron said.

The downside

Not all the news is positive, however. Bergeron said state trends indicate a "very slow job recovery."

"The growth in employment areas is very, very slow, and we're seeing increased debt in general.

"It's been a challenge for people looking for work, with a lot of baby boomers having lost their jobs and not finding new ones right away. Often they end up having to work a couple of part-time jobs."

Recent college graduates are finding themselves in a competitive job market, and some are having a difficult time, Bergeron said.

Windham is at an economic advantage, he said, because of its close proximity to Interstate 93, the Massachusetts border and ongoing development opportunities.

Bergeron warned that local and state boards can often deter business development by being too focused on small, technical issues or requiring companies to pay for infrastructure that the town could have paid for in advance.

"Local regulations are done with the best of intentions, but sometimes too many rules can have negative consequences. If you can't change the rules, make it easier for businesses to work through them," Bergeron said.

He advised town officials to "be friendly, be welcoming" when it comes to dealing with potential new business owners.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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