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Business Perspective: NH employers share top concerns at BIA roundtables

Business Perspective: NH employers share top concerns at BIA roundtables

Worker shortages, lack of housing, inadequate child and elder care options, and rising energy costs. Employers in New Hampshire face myriad challenges that threaten their success and the Granite State’s economic growth.

The Business & Industry Association, New Hampshire's statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate, held 10 roundtable policy talks across the state in June. The goal was to hear from employers in the state’s diverse regions and economy. BIA normally holds roundtable talks every two years ahead of the state’s fall elections, but didn’t in 2020 due to the pandemic. The landscape of economic challenges has changed significantly since 2018.

The roundtables are a critical first step in developing BIA’s public policy priorities, which guide our advocacy efforts during the two-year legislative session. They provide a great opportunity for employers to participate in New Hampshire’s governance and inform our lawmakers on what keeps employers up at night.

Approximately 200 participants joined the roundtables and while the input was varied, the top issues were consistently the difficulty finding workers, which is inextricably tied to the lack of available and affordable housing stock. In fact, the worker and housing shortages were the top concerns at all 10 roundtables.

The lack of affordable and available childcare was often identified as contributing to the shortage of workers. This challenge existed before the pandemic but was exacerbated by it. Many participants also cited the lack of elder care as an additional burden on a sandwich generation of workers who need care for young children and elderly parents.

The high cost of energy, including heating fuels, electricity and automobile gas, were among top energy concerns, not surprising given the historically high energy costs. Spiking traditional fuel costs, such as natural gas, added emphasis to participants’ calls for a quicker, more robust transition to renewable, reliable and cheaper energy sources.

The cost of providing healthcare benefits was a top concern in the healthcare category, albeit less than four years ago given employers’ primary fight just to get enough workers in doors to operate at full capacity.

All these challenges are combining to increase costs across the board for employers, straining their ability to remain profitable. This includes business and nonprofit organizations. And, yes, it’s enough to keep many up at night.

The roundtables included recommended action steps to help ease the challenges.

The need to increase workforce housing was the top overall priority of roundtable participants. Action steps included promoting the economic benefits of more diverse housing, working with towns and cities to adjust zoning to encourage higher-density housing and mixed-uses through which employers could develop housing at their commercial sites. Others called for expedited approval processes, incentives for employers to offer employer-assisted housing, increased public-private partnerships and easing regulations for repurposing commercial sites, such as mills and shopping plazas, for housing.

Participants said increasing affordable child- and elder-care options would help many people return full time to the workforce. Others said the state’s licensing and certification processes are too onerous, clogging the pipeline of workers for commercial driving, medical jobs and the trades. There were calls to better align high school education for jobs not requiring four-year college degrees and promoting the income potential of such jobs.

Marketing the state to younger workers is essential with New Hampshire’s aging workforce. Increasing the supply of lower-price point housing could go a long way toward attracting younger workers, as could additional public transit options, many participants said. Others said increased investment to expand New Hampshire’s green economy, including electric vehicle infrastructure, would help attract new and younger workers. Several participants also called for more investment in higher education to make New Hampshire’s colleges and universities more affordable and attractive to in-state students, reducing their flight from the Granite State. Investments should include tax credits and better tax policy to encourage employers to provide student loan debt relief, they added.

New Hampshire is an attractive place to live, work and play, but there are challenges to our short- and long-term economic growth. Government policy and regulations in coming years can chart a course for sustained prosperity. BIA thanks the 200 employers and citizens who joined our roundtable talks and shared their concerns and visions for a better New Hampshire. BIA is proud to help provide a pathway to participate in and influence our state’s governance.

Michael Skelton is president and CEO of the Business & Industry Association.

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Media Contact : Rick Fabrizio,

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