What’s good for schools is good for business.
The executives who support Manchester Proud’s efforts to improve city schools say it’s more than a feel-good moment.
It’s about whether the city can attract enough workers to move here.
It’s about whether the city can produce enough workers to satisfy the needs of local businesses.
It’s about whether the city can continue to maintain the economic boom that has emerged since major employers began setting up shop 20 years ago in the old textile mills by the Merrimack River.
The group will be presenting a draft plan to the Board of School Committee on Monday that will include such proposals as creating magnet schools with special focus areas.
For real estate developer Arthur Sullivan, the path to co-founding Manchester Proud began a few years ago when one of his major tenants in the Millyard was reconsidering its future in the Queen City.
“They were thinking about downsizing, keeping a smaller footprint in Manchester and possibly moving to Connecticut or Massachusetts,” Sullivan said.
The reason: Too many potential recruits touring the city decided to pass once they learned about the school district’s sub-par graduation rates and test scores.
“There were rumblings along the way, but that’s when I thought there’s something real here,” said Sullivan, a graduate of Central High School.
Brady Sullivan Properties is landlord to several major companies in the Millyard, including PillPack and CCA Global Partners. RiverStone Resources, a long-time tenant in Brady Sullivan’s Waumbec Mill building, was among the first companies to pledge its support to Manchester Proud, donating $50,000. The insurance company also has offices in Atlanta, San Diego and the United Kingdom.
“We struggle sometimes to attract people into the region,” RiverStone President and CEO Nick Bentley said. “And one of the factors which is often quoted is the school system. It’s a determinator for both where people may reside in the States or whether or not they would join us.”
RiverStone employs lawyers, actuaries, accountants and other highly skilled workers, Bentley said. The company has grown from 125 to about 350 over the past 10 years. Many of the new recruits choose to live in Bedford or other surrounding communities, he said.
When Bentley and his wife moved here 12 years ago, they chose Exeter so they could be near the coast, as they were in the UK. They enjoy living in the Granite State, he said.
“We’ve got two teenage girls, and bringing them up in New Hampshire is pretty well bringing them up in a bubble. As you navigate your children through all of the life challenges that they’re going to have, it’s nice to be in a place where you feel comfortable,” he said. “I’d love to feel that about Manchester as well.”
‘Economic and moral’ issue
Diane Mercier, New Hampshire president for People’s United Bank, says the district’s struggles are a greater factor for the city’s reputation outside New Hampshire than within it. Both of her children graduated from Central and had positive experiences there, she said, adding that the diversity of Central’s study body was a benefit.
Businesses should care about the strength of the city’s schools because their success is intertwined, she said.
“The health and vitality of my business is a reflection of the health of the community,” she said. “The health of any community is the reflected vibrancy and resiliency of its schools. We should care because these issues are both economic and moral.”
Nathan Saller, president and CEO of Bellwether Community Credit Union, says 20 percent of the credit union’s members and nearly 25 percent of its employees live in Manchester.
“We obviously have a very vested interest in the success of the school district, both from having some of the teachers and staff that are members, and looking forward, those students are going to be our future members as well,” Saller said.
Dr. William Brewster, vice president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care for New Hampshire, attended elementary school at the tiny Jennie D. Blake School in Hill, a small town north of Franklin. His father was on the school board, and his mother taught in Franklin and later in Northfield.
Through his mother, Brewster saw how much teaching changed over the years.
“It was all the social issues that come into school with the kids. Are they too hungry to really pay attention? Are they missing school because of stuff going on at home? Or they don’t have clothes or whatever,” Brewster said. “It just got more and more draining on my mom until she finally retired early.”
Many of the people who work for Harvard Pilgrim in Manchester have young children, Brewster said.
“If I want them to come here they need to have a place where they feel comfortable having their kids getting educated,” he said.