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My Turn: For two New Hampshires, we need two strategies

There has been significant mention in studies and reports of “two New Hampshires,” differing in demographic characteristics and economic indicators. New Hampshire’s southeastern counties are economically linked to the Boston metropolitan area because of the proximity to Boston, shared labor market, and industry connections and clusters. The more rural northern and western New Hampshire counties differ significantly, with their own set of economic indicators. The “two New Hampshires” present challenges and also opportunities to strategically and appropriately focus efforts to support a strong, economically vibrant state.

Rural and metro New Hampshire counties differ significantly from one another by age (percent of residents of working age and percent over 65); by levels of educational attainment; by income, which correlates strongly to education; and by population density, to name some key factors. The data that shows important differences between rural and metro New Hampshire suggest that different approaches to economic development and education in the two regions are needed.

Rural New Hampshire, if measured as a separate state, would have the second highest percentage of residents over age 65 (only behind Florida), while metro New Hampshire would be in the bottom third of U.S. states with the percentage of residents over age 65. If rural New Hampshire were a separate state, it would have the lowest percentage of residents age 25-44 among U.S. states. In contrast, metro New Hampshire would rank among the median U.S. states on this same measure. This age 25-44 population is the entry-level workforce critical for many businesses; the workforce that businesses rely on for jobs requiring middle and high skills and the latest technical training.

Residents of metro New Hampshire are more highly educated than rural New Hampshire, although both New Hampshires would as separate states rank at or above the U.S. median for levels of higher education. Correlated strongly to educational attainment is income. There are again significant differences between rural and metro New Hampshire when considering per capita income. As a separate state, metro New Hampshire would rank fifth among all U.S. states in per capita income, only trailing Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts (each of which also lead metro New Hampshire in education levels) and first among all 50 U.S. states with the lowest poverty rate (7.2 percent). Rural New Hampshire as a separate state would rank 20th in per capita income and seventh in poverty.

Across New Hampshire, education and pathways to careers are critical. With a younger population that is more highly educated, particularly in the skilled trades and digital and information technology, the state will be much better positioned to retain and attract high-tech innovating firms and fast growing firms.

In metro New Hampshire this will require building on the strong base and variety of educational institutions, with a focus on strengthening economic connections with industry.

Efforts in rural New Hampshire should focus on investing in existing educational institutions, including community colleges, as affordable pathways to economic advancement. Part of this focus should be improved educational alignment and partnerships with industries that have strong rural prospects, such as outdoor recreation, leisure and hospitality, energy and environmental products and services, and certain advanced manufacturing sectors.

A focus on placing local area youth on pathways for educational success through college and then to the workforce is essential, as every young person is a highly important labor market/economic resource in short supply in this region.

Moreover, educational delivery methods that meet the needs of a dispersed population is a critical factor for colleges operating in rural New Hampshire.

The differing factors of rural and metro New Hampshire are suggestive to those concerned with economic development and the role of postsecondary institutions in the state.

They are of particular importance within the Community College System of New Hampshire as we focus our efforts on the role our institutions must play to best support the economic development of their regions.

(Ross Gittell is an economist and chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire. For more detailed data and analysis, see the complete white paper entitled “The Two New Hampshires – What Does it Mean?” at www.ccsnh.edu/whitepaper.)

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