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Plymouth State U. Analysis paints bleak picture of future Belknap County economy

PLYMOUTH — In the years ahead the economy of Belknap County will be marked by an aging population, shrinking workforce, dwindling investment and slackening growth according to a study by Daniel Lee, an economist at Plymouth State University.

Dr. Lee could not be reached on Tuesday to comment on his report.

In New Hampshire, where the population is aging more rapidly than in the nation, Lee notes that the population of Belknap County is aging even faster. The median age in the county in 2010 was 44.7, compared to 37.2 in the nation and 41.1 in the state. Only Carroll County and Coos County, where the median ages were 48.3 and 46.4, had older populations. Between 2000 and 2010, those aged five and younger grew just one-percent and those aged between five and 17 shrank nine-percent while those aged 45 to 64 jumped 31 percent and those 65 and older climbed 19 percent.

Without net migration into the county, Lee projects that with this pace of aging the population of working age in Belknap County — those between 20 and 64 — will have decreased 5.8 percent by 2020 and 16.3-percent by 2030. The decline would be surpassed only by Carroll County and Coos County, where he projects the working age populations to shrink by 24.4 percent and 20 percent respectively by 2030. Moreover, Lee notes that the labor participation rate — the number of residents in the workforce — in Belknap County has dropped from 72 percent in 1998 to 64 percent in 2012, compared to a decline from 72 percent to 68 percent in the state.

Lee anticipates that the county's smaller workforce will also have a relatively low level of educational attainment. Although the 32 percent of the state's population has at least a college degree, fewer than one in four residents of Belknap County have more than high school diplomas and the gap between the state and county is widening.

Along with the size and skill of the workforce, Lee counts capital investment as the third major source of long-term economic growth. He calculates that the growth of private investment has slowed in New Hampshire during the past four decades and that investment in Belknap County has lagged the pace in the state. Between 2000 and 2010 the capital stock of the state grew 30 percent, with Grafton County and Merrimack County setting the pace at 55 percent and 39 percent respectively, while it grew 26 percent in Belknap County.

From 2000 to 2010 Lee found that productivity growth fell sharply, by more than two-thirds in the state and by more than half in the county. Although productivity growth in Belknap County of 7.3 percent barely topped the state average of 7.1 percent, it was the fourth lowest rate in the state, far behind Grafton County, which led the field at 25 percent but well ahead of Rockingham County, the tailender at 1.4 percent.

These trends were reflected in slower growth of both employment and income. Belknap County was among the five counties where employment shrank between 2000-2010, though the decline of 4 percent was less than half the 9 percent drops in Coos County and Sullivan County. Meanwhile, personal income rose 16 percent during the same period, faster than the 13 percent in the state as a whole, but far off the pace of increases of 51 percent in the previous two decades.

Lee tracked shifts in the source of income growth by measuring the contribution of different industries to increases in earnings. Between 1970 and 2000 the service and manufacturing sectors drove the economy in the county, generating about a quarter and a fifth of growth in earnings respectively. Retail trade, construction and government services accounted for approximately 1 percent apiece and finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) and wholesale trade each less than 10 percent.

However, between 2001 and 2001 Lee calculates that government services, health care and social assistance together represented 57 percent of growth in earnings while professional and technical services accounted for another 11 percent. Retail and wholesale trade, along with the dining and hospitality sector, each contributed less than 10 percent. According to Lee, the contribution of the manufacturing sector dropped 31 percent to become "the largest drag during the past decade."

Lee concludes that the Belknap County has been buffeted by the same demographic forces weighing on the state. However, he notes that the county's economy has declined relative to other parts of the state "gradually but steadily over the past four decades," a trend he anticipates will continue.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 01:23

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Mass. educator to be new principal at Belmont Elementary School

BELMONT — The Shaker Regional School District has hired Sheila Arnold to be the principal of Belmont Elementary School, replacing retiring Principal Emily Spear.

Arnold is currently the principal of Mashpee Middle School in Mashpee, Mass. She has been an elementary school principal in New Bedford, Mass as well as an assistant principal at Mashpee High School.

Superintendent Maria Dreyer said Arnold earned her undergraduate degree from Ohio University and her Masters of Education and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies from Cambridge College (Mass.)

"I'm really excited and delighted," Dreyer said, adding Arnold is an energetic and involved educator who will contribute to success and improvement at Belmont Elementary School.

Described as a collaborative leader who has an exceptional knowledge of curriculum and leadership, Dreyer said Arnold plans on moving to the area and will be invested in the community.

Arnold will begin with Shaker Regional School District on July 1.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 01:13

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Consensus that castle itself cannot be saved?

GILFORD — For the second time a standing room only crowd of people joined the selectmen for a discussion about the future of Kimball Castle and the 20 acres of property upon which it sits.

The Wednesday night gathering learned two new things: that an individual appraisal of the 115-year-old castle is $375,000 and that the selectmen have been working in non-public sessions with their lawyers and the Kimball Castle LLC. owner and his lawyers to come up with a way to save some artifacts and secure the property so that it doesn't pose a danger to the general public.

"As stewards we believe it is not in the town's best interests to own the property," said Selectman's Chair John O'Brien. He added that of the 80 or so letters the town has received from residents, very few have expressed a desire to use tax money on the building.

Kimball Wildlife Forest Committee Chair Sandra McGonagle said her committee's recommendation is to comply with the building inspector and either fence in the castle or tear it down, to try a purchase the land using local fund-raising and any available state and federal grants, and to preserve an easement that would allow access to the trails from the west side of the property.

"We've heard your concern about safety and vandalizing," she said to the board. "We conclude with the recommendations of the building inspector."

Selectmen said it is the owner's desire to sell the 20 acre-property as a single family residence but some in the audience, including Robert Heinrich, had objections.

He said the current owner was part of a consortium of people who worked out a "sweetheart" deal with the town in 1991 and that he was approached about joining in the early 1990s. 

When the plan to build a restaurant collapsed for lack of financing, he said the owner originally was trying to sell the castle for $2.895 million but has allowed the castle to fall into such disrepair that the building itself is virtually worthless.

Many murmured in agreement when Heinrich said the owner has a responsibility to the town to maintain it. He also said the provisions of Charlotte Kimball's will specifically said she didn't want the property used for a residence but for a wildlife preserve.

Others said they didn't support using state LCHIP (Land and Community Heritage Investment Program) money for the castle because it is so hard to get and there are better uses for it even in Gilford.

Jim Sherman said the castle isn't historic. "It's 100 years old and my neighbor calls his home a castle," he said.

Conservation Commission alternate member John Goodhue said he knows there is someone working with the owner to purchase it but the owner needs the town's help to "put the deal together."

While Goodhue didn't say how he knows this, O'Brien had said earlier there have been some behind the scenes negotiations with selectmen to facilitate some kind of solution.

Just about the only thing everyone agreed on was the castle itself was beyond repair and posed a potential liability to the town.

One man pointed out that the liability to the town grows daily because the selectmen keep extending their order to the owner to either tear it down or build a fence.

As it stands right now, the owner has until April 30 to either tear it down or build a fence around the castle.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 01:11

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New market rate apartments to be built in Laconia for first time in decades

LACONIA — In the 40 years since Lakeshore Estates was built in 1974 there has been no major investment in expanding the inventory of rental housing units in the city. But, in the past year Dick Anagnost of Manchester announced plans to construct 96 apartments of Mile Hill Road in the South End and Chinburg Builders intends to add 37 rental units to the Beacon Street West complex. Meanwhile, last month a Florida investor purchased Lakeshore Estates for $5 million.

"The economics of the marketplace for units renting at market rates has changed for the first time in years," said Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research.

Although population growth has stalled, a number of demographic and economic factors have combined to boost demand for rental housing. "It is not growth but change that is driving demand," explained Dan Smith of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, "and it's happening across the state."

Despite the sharp fall in property values during the recession, home ownership remained beyond the means of many young singles and couples. Some were burdened with student loan debt, which in New Hampshire averages $32,900, the highest level in the country. They may also have lacked secure employment or earned modest wages. Some balked at home ownership as a risky investment. At the same time, lenders tightened their standards and down payments increased.

At the other end of the spectrum, as the baby boom generation begins to retire they are realizing the equity accrued in their homes and downsizing their living arrangements. Moreover, a share of these retirees never owned a home.

Not surprisingly Anagnost told the Planning Board that that he expected that two age groups — 29 to 35 year-olds and 62 to 75 year-olds — would represent most of the demand for apartments in the South End.

While demand has grown, the inventory of rental units, especially beyond the southern tier of the state, has stagnated and aged. Smith estimated that about a third of all rental units may be at least 70 years old. As the supply of rental units has not risen in pace with the demand, rents, which began rising in the wake of the collapse of property markets in the early 1990s, have continued to climb in pace with inflation.

According to the annual rent survey undertaken by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, the median gross rent (including utilities) was $1,018 for all units and in 2013 and $1,076 for two-bedroom units statewide and $953 for all units and $1,005 for two-bedroom units in Belknap County in 2013.

Thibeault said that the mix of growing demand, short supply and viable rents offered opportunities for investment in rental development.

Apart from expanding inventory, new construction and reinvestment will likely enhance the quality of rental units in the city. Speaking to the Planning Board, Anagnost described a "trickle down effect," explaining that when new apartments come on to the market, renters in older units move into them, filling them relatively quickly. As vacancies increase at other properties, landlords are faced with lowering their rents or improving their properties in order to compete. The new owners of Lakeshore Estates have already indicated they intend to improve the interiors of the apartments.

Smith said that by introducing more competition to the housing market, investment in rental properties would offer more choices to households shopping for shelter.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 01:04

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