New home at Cross Farm

Garrett Norris nails siding while helping to build a new home at Cross Farm, a new development off Route 102 in Londonderry.

MANCHESTER — If you think finding workers to fill jobs is difficult now, just wait 10 years.

“You’re going to lose 50,000 workers,” John Martin, CEO of a Virginia think tank, told a record crowd at a New Hampshire housing and economy conference last week.

“Sound the alarm!” said Martin, who cited population estimates showing 51,127 fewer people aged 20 to 64 will call the state home by 2030.

Many employers have been struggling for years to fill open positions in a state with a current 2.5% unemployment rate. And home prices continue rising.

According to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, the median price for a single-family house for the first nine months of the year stood at $300,000 — $15,000 more than a year ago.

“We hear all the time from employers, and one of the issues that prospective employees raise concerns about is when they’re looking at coming to the state or changing jobs in the state is the availability and affordability of housing near where they’re going to work,” Dean Christon, executive director and CEO of New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, told 300-plus people at the DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown hotel on Thursday.

“Right now, we have a challenge, in that housing infrastructure has the potential not only to impact the individuals but also to impact our broader economy in a very significant way,” said Christon, whose organization presented the conference.

During his 90-minute presentation, Martin said many companies entering a new market want to find 85% of their employees already living in the area.

Housing forum in Manchester

John Martin, CEO and managing partner of a Virginia think tank, listens to a question from Wall Street Journal reporter Laura Kusisto during a housing and economy conference in Manchester last week.

“Many companies are simply going where the talent is,” said Martin, managing partner of SIR’s Institute for Tomorrow, based in Richmond, Va. “They’re expecting the village, the region, the state to say, ‘Here’s our plan to attract more,’ because if they don’t think there’s a pipeline coming, why are they going to pick you?”

Martin’s suggestions for attracting workers, especially millennials, include forming regional partnerships among communities, being more inclusive to different ethnic and social groups, offering a variety of employment and housing options and creating smaller, more livable communities that don’t necessarily require a car.

“It gives us a high bar of what we need to do to work collaboratively to get the job done,” Mary Sullivan, residential mortgage team leader at St. Mary’s Bank, said after the event.

“It’s an inspiration when you walk out of here” thinking of the possibilities, but it will take bringing different institutions, municipalities and people to work together to make it a reality, she said.

Earlier, Ralph McLaughlin, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic, told the crowd that wages grew by nearly 10% in a year’s time in the Manchester metro area.

Afterward, he cited federal statistics showing the average weekly wage in July was 10.6% higher than in July 2018, though that didn’t mean that people received 10% raises. Explanations could include raises, employees working more hours per week and/or people with higher salaries moving into the area, McLaughlin said.

“What it does mean is there’s more dollars floating around in consumers’ pockets,” McLaughlin said.

He also predicted that the median home price in the Manchester area would grow by 7.5% between this month and a year from now.

Christon said developers aren’t building enough homes. Building permits for single-family homes averaged 4,718 a year between 1990 and 2007 in New Hampshire and 2,080 a year between 2008 and 2018.

Ben Frost, director of legal and public affairs at the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, said developers received a piece of good news from the State House. A new law going into effect in July 2020 will shorten the appeals process when developers want to challenge decisions by local planning or zoning boards.

Developers can avoid going to Superior Court by taking their case to a new housing appeals board, which will make a decision within 150 days. An appeal could take years in court.

“Developers aren’t “in the business of wanting to litigate,” Frost said. “They just want an answer.”

A housing appeals board decision, like a Superior Court ruling, can be appealed to the state Supreme Court, he said.

No discussion of future workforces can escape a discussion on how generations differ. Millennials, Martin said, are hyper-connected, are more willing to share houses and cars and believe in a “collective self.”

But people of all ages share some common beliefs.

“There’s a couple core things that wire us all together regardless of generations,” he said. “One of them is we have this really deep need to belong.”

What’s Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire’s workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education. Contact reporter Michael Cousineau at mcousineau@unionleader.com. To read stories in the series, visit unionleader.com/whatsworking.

Sunday, November 17, 2019
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