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Business and Industry Association unveils ‘strategic economic plan’ for N.H.

The Business and Industry Association has a few suggestions about how to kick the state economy into high gear.

The BIA, an influential business lobbying group that bills itself as “New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce,” yesterday released a strategic economic plan that describes business leaders as increasingly uneasy about the state’s direction. It offers more than 100 policy prescriptions, on everything from energy and health care to fiscal policy and regulations.

The recommendations range from the uncontroversial – “recognize locally produced and marketed products and services to keep more dollars circulating in the state” – to the politically charged, such as making New Hampshire a right-to-work state.

“There’s no way the BIA is going to pursue all of these equally at the same time. . . . But given the depth and the breadth of this plan, we hope that others – trade associations, chambers of commerce, elected leaders, businesses – will embrace pieces of it or all of it or even one individual recommendation and run with it, with or without our support,” said Jim Roche, the BIA’s president.

The strategic plan is the product of a process that began in January.

The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies ranked New Hampshire against other states on 50 economic indicators, and the BIA held 27 stakeholder group meetings to gather input and ideas. The resulting plan was unanimously endorsed by the BIA’s board of directors last month.

The 47-page report opens with a vision statement: “To ensure New Hampshire provides meaningful advantages for businesses through a vibrant, sustainable economy and the nation’s best environment in which our residents can prosper.”

It reviews various economic indicators, noting that New Hampshire ranks highly in many areas but, as the public policy center has noted in several recent reports, is no longer enjoying the benefits of large-scale, prolonged migration into the state.

That has caused economic growth to slow, the BIA said, and it threatens the state’s long-term prosperity.

“Business leaders believe that, absent a well-thought-out, strategic economic plan, New Hampshire’s economic assets are threatened and its vulnerabilities are further exposed,” the report states.

The report makes policy suggestions in nine broad categories: business growth, retention and attraction; education, workforce skills and labor pool; energy; fiscal policy; health care; infrastructure; natural, cultural and historic resources; regulatory environment; and workforce housing.

They include ideas large and small: studying incentives to retain young people, such as a tax credit for paid internships; increased funding for need-based scholarships to reduce student debt; reducing business taxes “when economically feasible;” finding a sustainable funding mechanism for roads and bridges; and creating a master survey of the state’s natural, cultural and historic resources.

Many of the recommendations are ideas the BIA has backed in the past, such as enacting a right-to-work law, which would bar union contracts from requiring nonmembers to pay dues or fees. And many are likely to meet resistance, such as “streamlining facility siting and permitting processes” for energy infrastructure – that would probably ease approval of the Northern Pass, though the BIA said it remains neutral on the controversial transmission line project.

The plan is unlikely to be adopted wholesale by lawmakers, but Roche said the BIA hopes for a positive reception in the coming months and years.

“There are . . . over 100 recommendations in the plan,” Roche said. “I think everybody can get behind the vision statements and the goals. They’re all very straightforward, pretty logical. . . . Some of the recommendations will not be embraced by elected officials and perhaps department heads. Others will be, I think.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, appears open to listening.

“Gov. Hassan appreciates the work done by the BIA and its many stakeholder groups to put forward constructive recommendations for strengthening our economic future, and the governor remains focused on helping innovative businesses grow and create good jobs that can support a strong middle class,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg in a statement.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

The statement, "Business leaders believe that, absent a well-thought-out, strategic economic plan, New Hampshire’s economic assets are threatened and its vulnerabilities are further exposed," means that the business community that composes this group does not trust the politicians to come up with such a plan... not good.

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