LONDONDERRY — In a nearly darkened room not far from Manchester’s airport, Sen. Maggie Hassan was the only one who could see.
She first donned a night-vision monoscope used to protect American troops, then swapped that out for a more advanced night-vision goggle-binoculars that could pick up an enemy’s thermal image.
“Oh my gosh! This is like night and day,” the senator told employees of defense contractor L3Harris, which has increased its workforce by about 5% since 2019.
The state is expected to see brighter employment numbers this decade, as the state projects to add 7.5% more jobs in the decade ending in 2030, according to a state report.
Employment is expected to grow in all nine of the state’s planning regions, ranging from 3.7% in the North Country to 9.8% in the Southern New Hampshire region, which includes Londonderry.
The Nashua region is projected to add nearly 7,500 jobs during the decade, a gain of 7.3%.
“I would say you’re seeing pretty robust growth across a variety of different sectors,” said Jay Minkarah, executive director at the Nashua Regional Planning Commission. “That’s very encouraging to see.”
“We really do have a real diverse business and industrial base,” Minkarah said. “We have strong manufacturing. We’re very strong in differing high-tech sectors. Also strong in financial services and health care.”
The state’s four top growth regions are in south central and southeastern New Hampshire “because of a diverse economic base and a relatively faster population growth rate,” said Michael Argiropolis, a research analyst at the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau.
“Also, these regions are generally wealthier than other regions in the state, spurring demand for products and services,” he said.
The regional projections are based on the same figures included in a 2022 report on employment projections, which also forecasts a 7.5% increase — a net addition of nearly 51,000 jobs statewide.
Health care and social assistance jobs topped the growth in jobs, with a net gain of 12,769 jobs. Accommodation and food services was next with 11,143 additional jobs, followed by professional, scientific and technical services.
Manufacturing made the top 10 list with 1,829 additional jobs, according to the Economic and Labor Information Bureau.
Statewide, manufacturing is bouncing back toward its pre-pandemic presence.
December recorded 69,700 workers in manufacturing fields, compared to 71,300 in December with 2019. The manufacturing employment bottomed out at 64,200 in April 2020, right after the pandemic caused many businesses to furlough or lay off workers, according to figures from Argiropolis.
“Manufacturing employment has stabilized and has some pockets of strength where employment is actually growing” in the state’s southern tier, Argiropolis said in an email.
“Many of the occupations in manufacturing can be entered with a high school or equivalent education or some on-the-job training,” he said. Examples would be machinists, welders and computer numerical controlled (CNC) equipment operators and programmers, he said.
He cited “favorable employment trends” in several manufacturing industry groups: fabricated metal in the Lakes Region, electrical equipment in the North Country, computers and electronics in Nashua and machinery in southwestern New Hampshire.
Sullivan County has the greatest percentage of manufacturing jobs among private sector workers, registering 26.2% in 2021, ahead of next-door neighbor Cheshire County with 18.5%, according to an October state report.
“Sullivan County has always had a heavy manufacturing presence going back to the mills and the city of Claremont and the towns of Newport and Charlestown,” said Tim Josephson, associate planner at the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission.
The county doesn’t have as diverse a base of employers as other counties, and it has no universities, which often are economic drivers, though some residents commute to Dartmouth College in Hanover in Grafton County.
Why people work here
L3Harris operates two buildings in Londonderry. Both offer dedicated wall space with the words “My Why” containing scores of messages from workers explaining why they work at the defense contractor.
“To support our troops,” wrote one.
“To help others,” a second wrote.
“Make America Great,” said another.
Some noted loved ones lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Hassan, who had donned a camouflage smock while touring the manufacturing floor, paused at the wall at the Akira Way building to read several entries.
“I was moved by it, because it really in a lot different ways what I saw on that wall was people expressing how grateful they were to have a job where they can make a difference for our war fighters and for our country and for the world, because protecting democracy is so important,” Hassan said during an interview after touring the plant and talking with employees.
“They also clearly appreciate working for a good company and being able to support their families, which is what business growth is all about, so it was really impressive to see people combining that appreciation that they’re making a difference here with also the pride in their work and the pride in being able to support their families,” she said.
About 70% of L3Harris’s New Hampshire work is tied to the defense industry. The company would not assign a dollar figure to that work.
Hassan mentioned helping secure hundreds of millions of dollars in the last federal budget to buy advanced night-vision goggle-binoculars from two companies.
L3Harris could get somewhere around $150 million for its work in Londonderry, according to Chad Theroux, senior director of program management.
Statewide, the total value of currently active defense contracts in 2022 was $7.07 billion, involving 279 Granite State companies, according to figures provided by the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs.
At least partly due to a shortage of affordable housing, many New Hampshire companies struggle with finding workers.
“We have had challenges hiring folks here in New Hampshire,” Theroux said.
“For us, it’s really about the right skill set, so when we say how many would we hire, we’re always looking for certain skill sets that support our advanced manufacturing and our advanced capabilities, right?” Theroux said.
“And so I don’t know if I have a set number that I can give you. But really what we’re looking for is the right engineering talent, the right manufacturing talent, the right programming and management talent,” he said.
Hassan said company visits such as the one to L3Harris allows her to take the temperature of the state’s economy and learn ways to expand its workforce.
She likes to ask workers what paths they took to secure their current roles.
“I’m trying to get a sense of how we can go about meeting workers where they are and training them up, given how quickly technology changes,” Hassan said.
She also learns what companies produce.
“Seeing products that are essential to human safety and public health and protecting our country, it is important for me to get a sense as we’re putting together funding packages about why things cost what they do, for instance, and what kind of technology is being used,” she said.
Talking to workers around the state helps shape her view of how to improve the pipeline to create future workers.
“We know there is a workforce shortage in addition to needing to train workers well and trying to make sure that we are being strategic when we talk about high school and post-secondary education and letting families and young people and even workers in established careers who might want to change what kind of opportunities there are,” Hassan said.
“It helps me do my job and make policy better,” she said.