BIA-NH releases strategic economic plan


CONCORD, N.H. -- Responding to longstanding complaints about the state's lack of direction, a business group on Monday released a strategic plan with more than 100 recommendations for how New Hampshire can support a vibrant, sustainable economy and an environment in which businesses and residents prosper.

More than 200 stakeholders helped the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire create the plan, which includes nine broad goals, recommended tactics and ways to measure progress. BIA President Jim Roche said members had been asking for such a plan for at least seven years.

"That was reflective of this unease about the direction of the state -- it was sort of like the ship of state was drifting on the ocean with the prevailing winds, not really going to any particular destination," he said.

The group started developing the plan a year ago, and in addition to bringing together stakeholders, it hired the Center for Public Policy Studies to assess the current business climate and identify ways to measure changes over time. It found that New Hampshire outperforms most states on economic indicators that reflect past policy and demographic changes, including home ownership, high school graduation rates and business tax climate. But it fares worse on future-oriented indicators such as housing costs, student debt and others that make New Hampshire a less attractive place to live and work.

Roche said three main themes emerged during the plan's development: the high cost of doing business in New Hampshire, the desire for consistency and predictability in the business environment and the need for a highly trained workforce.

Many of the recommendations focus on New Hampshire's growing advanced manufacturing sector, including increasing state investment in and streamlining access to the state's research and development tax credit. Other tactics include increasing targeted educational and training programs and more broadly, committing sufficient statewide resources to ensure a high-quality, lifelong educational system.

"I'd call advanced manufacturing sort of the first sector among equals -- tourism, health care, business services -- all very important but much of New Hampshire's economy revolves around advanced manufacturing and high tech," Roche said.

In the area of health care, the plan sets a goal of making New Hampshire one of the healthiest states in the nation and a place where residents have lifelong access to high-quality, affordable care. Recommendations include allowing hospitals and other providers to collaborate more to improve care and lower costs.

As far as the regulatory environment, the group's goal is to have clear, appropriate and consistently applied regulations. One recommendation involves certifying outside consultants to contract with the state. For example, the state would have an easier time inspecting docks build by certified builders, Roche said.

He emphasized that the strategic plan is not a to-do list for the BIA, though the group plans to discuss which elements to emphasize. Instead, it is aimed at lawmakers, the governor and other key players.

The other goals focus on the topics of business growth, education, energy, fiscal policy, infrastructure, workforce housing and natural, historical and cultural resources.


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