Study: N.H. economy ranks 11th out of 50, with wide variations by region and sector
New Hampshire’s economy is doing pretty well, ranking 11th among the 50 states based on a “dashboard” of 50 key indicators, according to a new report from the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies.
But, the report cautions, that overall ranking disguises vast variations, not just between regions – the southern tier is doing far better than the North Country – but among sectors of the state economy. For example, New Hampshire ranks fourth in terms of cultural and natural resources, but it’s 37th in terms of health indicators.
More troubling, the center said, is the fact that while many of the state’s high-ranking indicators reflect current conditions, many of the low-ranking indicators – deficient bridges, electricity prices, student debt – have implications for the future.
“The way we look at ourselves is really a snapshot in time, right now, and on those indicators which measure that current climate, we’re doing pretty well. We have high homeownership rates, we have high high-school graduation rates, we’ve got a fairly high portion of our population in (the) science and engineering workforce,” said Steve Norton, the nonpartisan think tank’s executive director. “But these are all really indicators that are a function of policies and migration and demographic change that occurred 10, 15, 20, 25 years ago.”
Norton added, “We are still riding the tailwinds that were created by this enormous migratory change and economic acceleration that occurred in New Hampshire. When you look at the ‘future indicators,’ I think we fare much less well.”
The report, released yesterday, builds on a report the center released last September, “From Tailwind to Headwind,” that argued New Hampshire’s economy for three decades benefited from large-scale in-migration, but that even before the recession, fewer and fewer people were moving to the state.
The new report, “New Hampshire’s Economic Climate: Key Indicators,” is meant to provide hard data so policymakers can tailor their efforts to specific subjects and regions.
“If you’re interested in economic development, or whatever your goal is . . . you still have to think about the things that you want to invest in, whether it’s health care or any of these domains,” Norton said.
The center collected the data as part of the Business and Industry Association’s effort to develop a strategic economic plan for New Hampshire. The BIA will release that report Nov. 18, said Adrienne Rupp, vice president of communications.
The center’s indicators break down into nine “domains:” fiscal, education and workforce, regulatory, workforce housing, cultural and natural resources, energy, infrastructure, health and business growth and retention.
Overall, and with each indicator given equal weight, New Hampshire ranks 11th among the 50 states. That’s higher than Vermont (24th) and Maine (38th), though behind Massachusetts (eighth).
But there is wide variation by sector. New Hampshire is fourth in cultural and natural resources, seventh in business growth and retention, 14th in education and workforce, 17th in fiscal, 22nd in regulatory, 27th in infrastructure, 28th in energy, 31st in workforce housing and 37th in health.
The gaps are even more pronounced among the individual indicators, ranging from second in the nation (homeownership rate) to dead last (average student debt per graduate).
Other low-ranking indicators include private health insurance premiums (49th), population growth among 35- to 44-year-olds (48th) and land use restrictions (47th). The state is buoyed by high-ranking indicators such as high school graduation rates (fourth), voter turnout (fourth) and per-capita venture capital investment (eighth).
There’s also considerable variation by region of the state: While 38 percent of the adult population in greater Nashua has a bachelor’s degree or higher, just 14.4 percent do in the Great North Woods. While manufacturing makes up 27.6 percent of the wages paid in the Nashua area, it accounts for a far smaller chunk of the economy elsewhere, as low as 8.2 percent in the Concord area.
“Your economic development plan is likely to be very different depending on which region you’re engaging in,” Norton said.
While in the past New Hampshire’s economy grew almost on autopilot as people moved to the state in large numbers, that trend has faded, and current conditions may demand more introspection and planning, said Daniel Barrick, the center’s deputy director.
“We didn’t really need a strategic economic plan, because people kept coming here,” Barrick said.
Now, he added, “everybody’s kind of getting that feeling, that we need to start thinking strategically if the natural course of events, outside our control, (is) no longer providing that infusion.”
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)