In a time of high unemployment, why isn’t NH doing more to promote job creation?
Despite all of our problems, America remains the most attractive market in the world for almost every product imaginable. In large part, this is why most American businesses don’t immediately think of exporting their products abroad - a major failing of ours. But foreign companies are well aware of the opportunities that exist in the U.S. markets. Anyone doubting this should immediately look at the auto industry. The U.S. still produces some of the best cars in the world. But, we do so primarily in the south, in such states as South Carolina, Kentucky, and Alabama and they bear the brand logos of BMW, Toyota, Honda, Infinity, etc.
And it is not just cars; Honda Aviation, for example, recently opened a new plant in North Carolina which will help offset that state’s loss of its old textile mills. Nor is it just manufacturing; the list of businesses is almost limitless, and includes high tech companies, software companies, call centers, etc. Indeed, without such businesses, American consumers would immediately encounter a steep bout of inflation and unemployment.
So here is the question: when Kia Motors or Hyundai were recently looking to open new assembly plants, why is it that no one tried to persuade them to build a plant in NH? With New Hampshire’s great lifestyle, low taxes, our high tech base and our business environment, our state should be an excellent destination for all kinds of business operations. More often than not, foreign businesses are looking to establish operations where the enabling business environment is considerably better than in their home countries. This usually means the U.S.A. It should also mean New Hampshire.
With New Hampshire’s economy softening, with 50,000 of our citizens unemployed and unemployment rising, tax revenues declining, the state needs to find new ways to improve the business environment and create new jobs. New Hampshire also has one of the oldest populations in the country. We are tied with Florida in this measure. Surely we need new ways of bringing jobs and young talent into the state. It is hard to see a better way of doing so.
Clearly, we need to do a better job of reaching out and make NH’s business climate well known. By all reports, we are not appropriately doing so today. Judging by the successes of other states, NH does little to encourage or recruit companies to move here. Why is it, for example, that foreign companies are moving to Massachusetts’ Route 128 and 495 when NH’s business climate is (despite recent moves by our State Senate) still far more attractive? I asked a personal friend of mine, the President of Infosys (India’s largest and most successful software company), why he didn’t consider New Hampshire when they were expanding their U.S. operations. His response to me was simple. “I do not ever recall New Hampshire ever making a pitch for our business.”
Despite a strong desire of several other Indian companies, to take just one example, there has been very little contact with NH’s state government. Consider this recent quote from the New Hampshire Business Reports: “The Office of International Commerce, which has organized a number of trade missions in various parts of the world, considered a mission to India a couple years ago, but ultimately decided against it. We actually looked at that to see how many would want to go. We didn’t get huge response.” Or this: “With states such as Texas, Georgia, Alabama, etc. aggressively promoting themselves and getting successful results why would anyone bother looking at New Hampshire?” See (http://www.nhbr.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090313/INDUSTRY09/903119961) We obviously need to be much more proactive, aggressive and visible.
Just as bad, there has there been no visible effort to encourage exports abroad. Asian countries such as China, India, Vietnam and others are growing at a historically unprecedented rate, far outstripping the growth rates of the industrialized world or their own ability to meet their internal needs. America and New Hampshire can play a vital economic and trade role. New Hampshire exports are growing, proving that it can be done, but we are certainly not maximizing our potential. We should also be encouraging American companies to consider establishing new facilities in our state.
New Hampshire needs to create a platform for aggressive economic development. Yes, the state has an office that is charged with doing this. These responsibilities are housed within the Department of Resources and Economic Development (oddly named DRED) and more specifically the two people in the Division of Economic Development (oddly named DED). If nothing else, the name of these two units tells you a great deal about their marketing acumen. DED is obviously very understaffed and they have few incentives to be aggressive or responsive. Such an office needs to me much more proactive and results oriented. One look at their website relative to that of say Georgia confirms how far behind we are.
Part of the problem is also that DED seems to have very little intergovernmental visibility. I spoke with several very senior, economically oriented members of our legislature who have never heard of them. It would appear that they have very little noticeable support or political backing from our elected officials. When was the last time you heard anyone in NH government mention this subject? This needs to change.Clearly, we need to do much more.
As a candidate for Congress I strongly urge that a great deal more effort be directed by the state to bring in new jobs into the state and that we become much more proactive in promoting greater export linkages abroad. The result could be tens of thousands of new jobs into the state and a rebirth of business vitality.
If elected I will make this one of my leading priorities. As a Congressman, I would encourage foreign companies to build facilities in NH and would work with the Governor of NH to develop an economic development plan to include encourage investment in NH from foreign companies. As the only candidate with any private sector and business development experience I have every confidence I can make this happen.
Bob Bestani is a Visiting Scholar with Stanford University’s Collaboratory for Research on Global Projects and a Candidate for Congress in NH’s 1st Congressional District.