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'DRED is dead': New agency to promote state economy takes shape

By DAVID SOLOMON
State House Bureau

July 05. 2017 3:47PM
The home page of dred.state.nh.us told visitors of the reorganization of the department. (www.dred.state.nh.us)
The reorganization at a glance
BEFORE

Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED)


• Division of Economic Development
• Division of Travel and Tourism
• Division of Forest and Lands
• Division of Parks and Recreation


AFTER
Department of Business and Economic Affairs (new entity)


• Division of Economic Development
• Division of Travel and Tourism

Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (renamed from Department of Cultural Resources)

• Division of Forest and Lands
• Division of Parks and Recreation

CONCORD — The dreaded acronym DRED is no more.

As Gov. Chris Sununu put it at a special meeting of the Executive Council on Wednesday, "DRED is dead."

A massive state agency that up to now has presided over an eclectic mix of missions is being broken up and rebranded as part of Sununu's focus on business recruitment and economic development.

And while the governor's office says the move will come with little to no additional cost, the Legislature heard testimony that costs associated with the project could run as high as $2 million.

Reorganizing the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED), a major initiative outlined in Sununu's budget address, became a reality as of July 1, thanks to the passage of enabling legislation that the governor gladly signed into law as part of the budget trailer bill.

DRED encompassed four divisions: economic development, travel and tourism, forest and lands, and parks and recreation. Incumbent Commissioner Jeffrey Rose had to preside over activities ranging from business recruitment to parking policies at state beaches.

The divisions of economic development and travel and tourism are now part of a newly created state agency, the Department of Business and Economic Affairs, with a commissioner of its own.

The remaining legacy divisions from DRED — forest and lands, and parks and recreation — have been moved to become part of an existing state agency, the Department of Cultural Resources, which has been renamed the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Under longtime commissioner Van MacLeod, known as a pillar of the state's cultural and historic institutions, the Department of Cultural Resources focused almost exclusively on promoting artistic endeavors and historic venues in the Granite State. State Librarian Michael York has served as acting commissioner since MacLeod passed away last July.

The department's jurisdiction includes the State Council on the Arts, the Division of Film and Digital Media, the Division of Historical Resources and the State Library, while providing administrative support to the Commission on Native American Affairs.

The department now has a new commissioner and a mandate that extends beyond the state's culture and history to include stewardship of public lands, as Rose becomes Commissioner of Natural and Cultural Resources.

New commissioner

Sununu wasted no time in acting on the economic development position, nominating Taylor Caswell, executive director of the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, to become commissioner of Business and Economic Affairs.

The council accepted Caswell's nomination on Wednesday and plans to hold a public hearing before voting at its next regularly scheduled meeting on July 19. Caswell has presented frequently to the council in his role at the Community Development Finance Authority.

"We know him and his work very well," said Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester. "But it will be good to hear what his vision is in terms of putting into practice and implementing what the Legislature is asking him to do."

Until a permanent BEA commissioner is approved, Victoria Cimino of Manchester will serve as interim commissioner. The council accepted and confirmed her nomination Wednesday.

Cimino is currently director of the Division of Travel and Tourism, and according to Sununu, will do double duty until the BEA commissioner is confirmed.

Sununu is glad to see the DRED acronym disappear, but said that had nothing to do with his focus on restructuring the state's economic development agency.

"The acronym was just silly, but that had no part in my decision-making process," he said after the Executive Council meeting.

"The decision was really based on the fact that we were one of a few states that did not have a department of business and economic affairs, a department that focuses on economic development. It was previously a division buried within bureaucracy."

Open for business

By creating a commissioner-level agency with a mandate to focus on new business recruitment, Sununu hopes to underline a recurring theme of his tenure: New Hampshire is open for business.

"It needs to be highlighted and needs to be a focal point where folks can have their questions answered," he said of the new BEA. "Whether it's on financing, or workforce opportunities, whatever the issue might be for an in-state or out-of-state business. It's something that has to be highlighted here to make sure our economy is constantly driving forward."

The restructuring was applauded by Republican councilors Russell Prescott of Kingston and Joe Kenney of Wakefield.

"I think it's a brilliant move to recreate this department to focus on business and economic development," said Kenney. "It's just what the state needs. I think there is a lot of curiosity out there in the business community about this new department and how it's all going to work."

Commission of Administrative Services Charlie Arlinghaus said no additional funds were budgeted for the reorganization.

"There shouldn't be any significant costs associated with it that can't be absorbed into existing budgets," he said. "For example, there is money for lease and rent in the existing budget and the idea will be for everything to fit into those categories."

Some of the divisions will stay in their current locations, while others will move to new offices, according to Arlinghaus.

"It's a reorganization with the new commissioners of each of the new entities given a lot of flexibility to decide what works operationally and for locations," he said.

Questions on cost

Despite those assurances, and the fact that the Legislative Budget Assistant did not attach any "fiscal note" to the legislation authorizing the reorganization, some are skeptical.

"We were provided information before the Senate Finance Committee that it could cost the state well over $2 million to do this reorganization and we would lose some of the synergy value of the current structure," said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord. "So I thought it was more appropriate to create a committee to study how best to go about doing a reorganization before jumping in head first."

The fact that Rose, appointed in 2013 by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, was moved over to Natural and Cultural Resources, does not reflect any dissatisfaction with the department's performance in economic development, according to Sununu.

"It's not a matter of being dissatisfied; it's a matter of knowing we can do a lot more," he said. "I think Jeff Rose has done a great job in his department and will retain oversight of forestry and parks."

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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