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In His Own Words: Let’s make Franklin more like Roseto, Pa.

When Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield was sworn in for a fourth term this month, he gave a speech that touted recent city successes, looked to the future and, unexpectedly, encouraged Franklin to be more like Roseto, Pa. Never heard of it? Read on!

I am humbled. This is the fourth occasion that I have been honored to take the oath of office as mayor. I have been part of the city government in one role or another since 1992. I have met and worked with some tremendous people over these two decades. You have my deepest thanks for your confidence. I will try to earn it every day over the next two years.

General Colin Powell tells us that “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier,” and I think he has been proven right more than once. I am here tonight to preach optimism about the near and distant future of Franklin. And I have evidence!

One year ago, the unemployment rate in Franklin was 7.2 percent. The latest figures from the state show us at 4.9 percent. And the state of New Hampshire as a whole stands at 5.1 percent.

This alone would suggest that our local economy is indeed improving but consider that we have already witnessed the aggressive expansion of our largest employer, Webster Valve, during 2013. We’ve also enjoyed grand openings for Federated Auto Parts, Central Gold Key Realty, Pizza Chef and Sustainable Refining in the Industrial Park. The Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce awarded recognition to Harvest Barn and Long Range Trap Release Systems early in 2013. Performance Chemicals is a new member of the Franklin business community. Many of our other businesses continue to thrive and grow and may it always be so.

And I suspect it will. Because early in 2014, several national and local business organizations will be before the planning board to discuss major financial investments in the various commercial corridors in our city.

It may be difficult to remember now, but the city of Franklin was experiencing a similar, remarkable growth – in its value and marketability – prior to the recession. From 2000 to 2008, Franklin’s property values rose at a faster rate than the state of New Hampshire as a whole. Faster than Concord, Bow, Dover, Rochester, and Manchester – to name a few. We gave back some of those gains during the Great Recession, but I believe the trajectory of the early 2000s remains in place. All the signs I have cited tonight are proof of that.

And all this is without even mentioning the promise of the Northern Pass project, which we can now estimate will nearly double the value of our city. It is no wonder that the Franklin Planning Board wishes to anticipate the effects of the Northern Pass “boom” in our master plan update of 2014.

We recognize our work is far from complete, and I urge everyone in Franklin leadership roles to continue adopting Franklin businesses, learning their needs, and continue reaching out to those who might relocate here, just as I do.

Apart from the private economy, the city government enjoyed many successes as well in the last year, not limited to improvements to our water delivery system and regional recognition of our new drinking water treatment plant. I’m honored to say that the Mayor’s Drug Task Force has completed work on a number of projects and promises to bring a K-9 Unit back to our police department. And recall that Captain Bruce Goldthwaite has honored us by being named the EMS Provider of the Year in New Hampshire.

Our school and municipal departments, educators and employees continue to do exceptional work with very limited resources. We look forward to more in 2014 from the best teachers, the best city manager and the best municipal team in New Hampshire.

I am also very optimistic and excited about new leadership and the new relationship between the Franklin School Board and our cicy Council. I feel that we are on the verge of a cooperative era that will benefit our school children and everyone in Franklin.

So, with all this promise and hope for the future, what do we want to be? We will soon hold the power in our hands to create the Franklin of the next century.

Let’s look at a tiny town in eastern Pennsylvania for one possibility.

Roseto was settled in the late 1800s almost exclusively by immigrants from Roseto Valfortore in Italy. Men worked in slate quarries and women in the manufacture of clothing. The town became an insulated cultural island unto itself. Fifty or 60 years later, a physician named Stuart Wolfe from the University of Oklahoma had a chance meeting with a local doctor, who alerted Wolfe to the fact that people from Roseto were not dying.

No illness, no crime

Well. They did die, of course. But only from extreme old age. Welcomed by the community, Wolfe brought a team of researchers to study the people of Roseto. And what he found was astounding. There was virtually no illness. Almost no heart disease, no cancer. There was no drug addiction, alcoholism or suicide. There was no one on welfare and virtually no crime.

Wolfe had to rule out genetics or heredity. Rosetans who settled elsewhere had diseases just like other Americans. It was not diet and exercise. Forty percent of Rosetans’ calories came from fat. Their diet was unhealthy. They were more prone to smoke and be obese than the norm. They drank much more wine than others.

But neighboring towns did not share Roseto’s health statistics at all, so it also wasn’t the air, water or region.

Wolfe did identify the cause. Virtually every home had three generations under a roof. Everyone attended the same church. After work, families would stroll the streets greeting their neighbors. There were always festivals and fairs. The wealthiest family lived in a house no better than the poorest.

In a town with 2,000 residents, there were at least 22 different fraternal organizations.

The community itself had made its people healthy.

Do we want to be like Roseto? I see similarities!

Strive for excellence

So I hope that our community accepts this call to rise: To be the best neighbors we can be. To strive for excellence in everything we do, so that we can earn the blessing David received in the First Book of Samuel: “(He) had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him.”

May the Lord be with Franklin and each of you in 2014. Thank you all so much.

(Ken Merrifield is the mayor of Franklin.)

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