Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute’s fourth annual budget and policy conference, “Investing in New Hampshire’s Future: Strategies to Maintain a Strong Workforce and a Vibrant Economy,” was held Friday, January 13 at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord, NH. More than 175 Granite State leaders gathered for the event, which featured a broad range of speakers addressing issues that impact New Hampshire’s ability to sustain and expand its workforce in the coming years.
“There is shared recognition that New Hampshire must take steps to boost its workforce to sustain a vibrant economy in the years ahead,” said John Shea, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. “It will take collaborative public-private partnerships, innovative solutions, and long-term vision to address this challenge and to build a strong foundation for the future.”
“We must be mindful that this need to boost the workforce exists across our economy and at all levels of the income spectrum,” added Shea. “We need to help ensure that residents of all ages have access to education and training that will prepare them for the job market as well as to health care, housing, transportation and child care that is affordable and accessible, enabling them to access employment opportunities.”
In his keynote address, Jeff Fuhrer, Executive Vice President and Senior Policy Advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, reviewed key economic trends from 2016 and outlined specific indicators that raise cause for concern.
“The economic challenges in New Hampshire mirror some national challenges,” added Fuhrer. “While overall statistics are good for the state, there are pockets of chronic poverty, unemployment, and substance misuse, which make it more difficult for area residents to achieve economic stability.”
The importance of a healthy and well educated workforce was emphasized throughout the day. Addressing the audience at the opening of the event, Amanda Grappone Osmer, Fourth Generation Steward of the Grappone Automotive Group, outlined how commitment to the health and well-being of employees has enabled the company to both attract and retain quality employees.
Access to health care for individuals and their family members is essential to ensuring economic stability for employees, and contributes to increased productivity in the workplace. The first session, moderated by Jo Porter, Director of the University of New Hampshire Institute of Health Policy and Practice, outlined the current landscape of the health insurance market in New Hampshire. Lori Shibinette, Deputy Commissioner, NH Department of Health and Human Services, provided an update on the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, which currently covers 51,000 Granite Staters, including many part-time and seasonal workers with no other access to health care.
Providing perspective as a primary care physician, Dr. Vasuki Nagaraj, Medical Director for Lamprey Health Care – Nashua, outlined how access to health coverage has enabled his patients to address medical needs and remain part of the workforce. The importance of mental health and substance use disorder coverage was addressed by Suellen Griffin, President/CEO, West Central Behavioral Health – Lebanon, who noted the connection these benefits have to both supporting a healthy workforce and addressing the state’s current opioid crisis.
New Hampshire’s own W.S. Badger Company, a family owned business based in Gilsum, offers an array of health and wellness-related benefits that have helped the company to attract and sustain its workforce. Deirdre Fitzgerald, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, W.S. Badger Company, outlined the company’s various offerings, which include paid and extended family leave and subsidized childcare, among other programs.
The second session focused on education through the workforce pipeline, which begins with early childhood and continues through primary and secondary education to higher education and workforce training. Moderated by Katie Merrow, Vice President for Community Impact for the NH Charitable Foundation, the session featured a discussion of successful programs currently underway to help residents of all ages develop the skills they need for the modern job market. Panelists included Marjorie Droppa, Project Director of Impact Monadnock; Natasha Kolehmainen, Curriculum Director for the Pelham School District; Beth Doiron, Director of College Access and Dept. of Education Programs and Initiatives for the Community College System of NH; and Mike Baymiller, Vice President of Human Resources for Hypertherm, based in Hanover.
The final session examined housing, transportation, and child care, three areas of common concern in communities across the state. Moderated by Yvonne Goldsberry, President of the Endowment for Health, the session also included discussion of what makes a community an attractive place to live and work as well as efforts underway to make the state more welcoming to new immigrants, who are vital the future of the state’s workforce. Panelists included Ben Frost, Director of Legal and Public Affairs for NH Housing; Marti Stone Ilg, Executive Director, Lakes Region Child Care Services Inc.; Nathan Miller, Principal Transportation Planner, Southern NH Planning Commission; and Tracy Hatch, President/CEO, Nashua Chamber of Commerce.
Event sponsors and partners included: New Futures, Reaching Higher NH, Child and Family Services of New Hampshire, Full Circle Consulting, the Campaign for a Family Friendly-Economy, and the New Hampshire Business Review.
The New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to exploring, developing, and promoting public policies that foster economic opportunity and prosperity for all New Hampshire residents, with an emphasis on low- and moderate-income families and individuals. Learn more at www.nhfpi.org.