Economic recovery in NH steady but slow progress

Holly Ramer, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- With steady but slow growth, New Hampshire appears to have relinquished its traditional position as a regional leader in economic recovery, according to a report released Wednesday.

In past recoveries, New Hampshire outperformed its neighbors in several key areas, but both Massachusetts and Vermont are adding jobs faster than New Hampshire, according to state and regional forecasts released by the New England Economic Partnership. Massachusetts already has replaced the jobs lost during the most recent recession, and Vermont will soon, economists said. New Hampshire, which lost about 26,000 jobs, or 5 percent of its total, isn't expected to hit that milestone until the middle of next year, said economist Dennis Delay of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies.

"That's frankly a disappointing performance compared to past New Hampshire recoveries where we've more often than not led the rest of New England in the economic recovery period in terms of job growth and economic growth," he said.

Population shifts partly explain the difference, Delay said. According to census data, most of New Hampshire's population growth through the 1970s, '80s and '90s came from people moving into the state, but that inflow has slowed in the last decade. As the number of migrants has dropped, so too has the financial boost that came along with the trend.

"Usually when the economy recovers, we see this renewed movement into New Hampshire, and that's not happening this time," he said.

According to the forecast, private sector employment will increase by about 2 percent per year through 2016, with the highest growth in professional and business service jobs.

Manufacturing jobs are expected to decline slightly, in part because productivity is rising — meaning fewer workers are needed to produce the same or greater amounts of goods.

Although manufacturing has declined over the past few decades, it remains the largest sector of the New Hampshire economy, accounting for 25 percent of the jobs. About 3,700 companies employ 7,800 workers in high technology jobs, Delay said, and their wages are about 40 percent higher than the average private sector job.

The state faces some competitive disadvantages, Delay said, including high labor, health and energy costs, but there are efforts underway to invest in the industry, particularly through workforce training programs.

For example, Hypertherm in Lebanon, which makes advanced cutting products used in shipbuilding and automotive repair, runs a training institute through a local community college and has opened a new facility with the capacity to add 500 new jobs over the next three years. Other community college programs are preparing students for jobs involving robotics, like those used at Whelen Engineering in Charlestown, said Ross Gittell, who managed the regional forecast for the New England Partnership and serves as chancellor of the New Hampshire Community College System.

The report also concluded that New Hampshire has turned the corner when it comes to housing, with recent increases in both sales and median home selling prices. After a decrease for the past five years, New Hampshire is expected to see construction jobs increase in the next five years by about 4 percent annually. Home prices also are expected to rise 4 percent per year, after being flat last year.