Littleton economy

Richard Wilson, the founder of Wilco Direct Inc., a steel fabricating firm, addresses the audience on Nov. 19 after being named the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business Leader of the Year.

LITTLETON — Boasting an inviting and active downtown, an expanding industrial park and a growing reputation as the center of a burgeoning regional craft-beer scene, Littleton is on its way to becoming a “billion-dollar town.”

That good news was shared recently during the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce’s 26th annual Economic Development Celebration at the Littleton Opera House. The Nov. 19 event also featured the naming of Richard Wilson, the founder of Wilco Direct Inc., a steel fabricating firm, as the chamber’s Business Leader of the Year.

Brien Ward, founder of the Littleton Economic Development Taskforce, pointed out that since 1995, the town’s assessed valuation has risen from $241 million to $819 million and is poised to hit the 10-figure mark in 2023.

Part of that growth, he said, was due to an influx into the Littleton Industrial Park, which has seen a dozen existing businesses expand there and also to a return of national brands to Main Street.

Between 1920 and 1980, Main Street was dominated by those brands, but they were entirely absent come 1992, said Ward. As of 2018, however, both Main Street as well as The Meadow, which is located southwest of the downtown and was envisioned by town leaders as a way of allowing big-box development while protecting small downtown retailers, have seen a return of national brands, ranging from Applebee’s to Walmart.

Ward anticipates that within the next five years, the number of national brands in Littleton will grow from the current 40 to between 70 and 80.

Andy Smith of Peabody and Smith Residential and Commercial Realty in Franconia said Littleton home prices have been “very steady” in recent years, with year-over-years sales similarly holding fast.

The average sales price of a house in Littleton is $194,936, Smith said, adding that the house, on average, was offered for sale for 85 days, a sign of a “very healthy market.”

Smith acknowledged that affordable housing remains a challenge and that builders are feeling stress because while their construction costs have gone up, there has not been a commensurate increase in sale prices.

Littleton’s commercial real estate market, however, is doing well, Smith said.

“The Meadow is almost full,” he said, while the industrial park “is the envy” of many cities and towns in New Hampshire.

Nathan Karol, the LACC’s executive director, said the future of Littleton and surrounding communities is sustainable economic development, and that beer is a part of it.

Karol observed that the Schilling Beer Co., which in June 2018 completed a major expansion of its operations along the Ammonoosuc River in Littleton, was joined in doing so by Bethlehem’s Rek-lis Brewing, which, although relatively young, had already increased its capacity to meet demand.

Additionally, two breweries — Iron Furnace Brewery in Franconia and the Copper Pig Brewery in Lancaster —opened in 2018, while another was expected to open soon in Littleton.

Karol closed the 2018 Economic Development Celebration by presenting the Raymond S. Burton Business Leader of the Year Award to Wilson.

Named after the state’s longest-serving executive councilor, the award recognizes “outstanding leadership” in support of the economic life of the Littleton area.