BNH CEO Primeau sounds warning on state's economy

MEREDITH — New Hampshire and the Lakes Region can no longer count on steady growth in population and the economy to take place and the state will have to reinvent and redefine the so-called New Hampshire Advantage if it is to recapture its position as a prosperous and growing state.
That was the message Mark Primeau, president and CEO of the Bank of New Hampshire, brought to the annual meeting of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce held at Church Landing here yesterday.
Primeau said that New Hampshire has had it good ever since the 1970s and that it was ''almost too good and too easy'' for a long time.
Now, faced with a declining job quality and population growth which is essentially flat, Primeau said that it will take hard work and leadership to regain the kind of growth the state has for so long taken for granted.
''Manufacturing used to be the largest employer. Now it is Walmart. Most of our new jobs have lower average wages. Manufacturing and high tech jobs pay far more than retail and service sector jobs,'' said Primeau, who pointed out that the state's economic growth lags behind all other states in New England except for Maine and that New Hampshire is still 10,000 jobs below it's 2008 peak.
He said that when he last addressed the Chamber two years ago he had ticked off a list of superlatives about the state, including the highest standard of living, lowest poverty rate, low unemployment rate, best place to raise a child and high median family income income.
''All those superlatives are still true, but N.H. has come out of a long recession in a far different place. After steady and strong growth for several decades, the game has changed and we face major challenges that we cannot avoid,'' said Primeau.
He said that income growth will be harder to achieve and that nearly all of all the state's growth will be taking place in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, in the southern tier.
''Slower population growth, slower job growth, lower quality jobs and an aging population equals lower income growth, more underemployment and a lower overall quality of life,'' said Primeau.
He said that Belknap County and the Lakes Region face particularly difficult adjustments, along with other rural New Hampshire counties. ''We really are in many ways two states, the South, Seacoast and Upper Valley and everybody else.''
Primeau said business drives the economy and creates growth and a higher standard of living and the state's leaders ''have to make business the priority to ensure a climate for business that will ensure our long-term success.''
He said that, despite the challenges, he is optimistic that the state can regain its footing and move ahead and that will take the support of Chambers of Commerce, government leaders and policy makers, concluding his remarks by saying ''we must commit to making New Hampshire the best place to do business in our great country and regain the growth we so long took for granted.''