NH Public Policy
New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies

Union Leader: Party on before the Granite State grinds to a halt

January 22, 2017

By Mike Cote

ECONOMISTS SAY that the numbers are looking pretty good for New Hampshire this year, but the long-range forecast is rather cloudy. So party like it's 1999, as one number cruncher says, but the morning after could be brutal.

New Hampshire continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation - beat 2.6 percent, South Dakota! - but not nearly enough workers to go around, a problem that could spell big trouble in a couple of years as we cope with an aging population.

On Wednesday, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce presents its annual economic forecast luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford. The panel will feature Chris Steele of ITR Economics in Manchester and Brian Gottlob of PolEcon Research in Dover.

Gottlob, who served as the keynote speaker a couple of weeks ago for the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce, predicts 2.1 percent job growth in New Hampshire this year and says the state's economy continues to show encouraging signs. He told business leaders he expects New Hampshire will lead job growth in New England, despite its labor problems.

But New Hampshire continues to suffer from population drain. That's bad mojo for the New Hampshire Advantage.

"If you go to (other) parts of the country, New England is seen, maybe with the exception of Boston and the Route 128 area, as a dying region," Gottlob told the Exeter crowd.

Gottlob did go on to say that New Hampshire has fared better than most other New England states over the past six years in terms of growth, but we're not where we need to be, Union Leader Correspondent Jason Schreiber reported.

Massachusetts - whose December 2.8 percent unemployment rate is its lowest in 16 years - is the top spot for people coming and going from New Hampshire, according to Census data released in December. In 2015, New Hampshire had a net gain of 11,000 people, with 53,000 residents moving in and 42,000 moving out, a modest gain at best.

Greg Bird, an economist for the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, also offered a positive but tempered outlook for New Hampshire last week at a meeting of the New England Economic Partnership held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The state's economy is in great shape, he said, with businesses adding workers at a pace not seen since 2001.

The first slide in Bird's forecast features a photo of the late singer Prince with the heading, "Party like it's 1999, but we might be running out of people to employ."

For now, New Hampshire looks like it's finally achieving liftoff from the recession years.

"If you look at many different standard economic indicators they're pointing to, we're in the best shape since the latter stages of the tech boom in the '90s," Bird said Friday during a phone interview, citing the state's low unemployment rate as one factor.

As business owners and hiring managers in the state know, a low unemployment rate can be tough for employers.

"Businesses will tell you, 'If I could hire 50 people today I would. I just can't find them,'" Bird said.

On the plus side, Bird touts steady revenue growth over the past four years in the state's meals and rooms tax and real estate transfer tax and the 16 percent growth last year of the state's two business taxes, bucking national trends.

Every private industry in New Hampshire is experiencing growth, including construction, manufacturing, retail trade, financial services and transportation/warehousing, Bird said.

That growth could grind to a halt in 2019 and 2020, he said, if New Hampshire can't find a way to attract and retain more twenty-somethings, as workers in their late 50s and early 60s ramp down their participation in the work force.

Then it might be party over, oops out of people.

Mike Cote is business editor. Contact him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or mcote@unionleader.com.