April 6, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Detroit by comparison?
By†Jody Reese

Even though this winter has been mild when compared to last year, it still wasnít any fun. Thatís why I wasnít surprised to meet a couple last week thatís moving to Florida. They have had enough of these winters.

Unfortunately for us, they are part of a national trend. Americans are leaving colder climates for Florida, Georgia, Texas, California and Arizona. Without good jobs to hold people, cities and towns such as Buffalo, Springfield, Worcester, Detroit and at one time Manchester are dying.

But unlike Detroit or Buffalo, Manchesterís economy is no longer based on a few large industries and we benefited from Bostonís economic boom in the mid 1990s. Unemployment here is below the national average.

Mainly because of the colleges and redevelopment efforts downtown, Boston has been spared the cold flight to warmer climates. People, especially highly skilled people, want to live there. Being less than an hour away, some of that growth spilled over into our economy.

Mayor Ray Wieczorek and Mayor Bob Baines were smart enough to see this resurgence and encouraged redevelopment, used the cityís borrowing power to develop projects that spurred more investment. Local and out-of-town investors too saw the opportunity to turn the city around.

In the course of five years, most of a once-dead downtown filled up with new restaurants, financial services companies and new retail, replacing lower-end retail such as Captainís Pleasure. Real estate prices increased, condos started to sell well and young professionals got together to play dodge ball. Recently, the Boston Globe did an article about how Manchester is a great place to spend a weekend the new Portland, the newspaper called us, a phrase we would have laughed at 10 years ago.

But there is no guarantee that property values will continue to rise or that young professionals will still want to live downtown.

Manchesterís city government needs to continue to invest in the city by maintaining its parks, repaving streets and creating a pro-business city government bureaucracy.

Though the budget process has just started, itís alarming to see parks and schools getting hit with big cuts. Both are key infrastructures that help to make the city a better place to live, and therefore directly impact property values.

If Mayor Frank Guinta can find efficiencies in city government by consolidating purchasing, consolidating departments and increasing productivity, then all the better for the city. But if he takes the easy way out and just eliminates repairs to sidewalks and park upkeep and reduces the number of school teachers, then this city will lose some of its luster.

Itís easy to save $29.95 every three months by foregoing an oil change on your car, but eventually those cuts will result in a $3,000 bill for a new engine. Running a city government or business, for that matter, is no different.

Manchester has the weather against it and national migration trends against it. We do not need to compound that by letting our engine seize up by saving a little on oil changes now.

Now is the time for more city investment, not less. Mayor Guintaís support for the University of New Hampshire science center is a step in the right direction. If need be, Manchester city government should step up and make sure that this project happens here. The result? Low long-term property taxes, lower crime, better schools. Itís clear we need to invest or lose out to those southern states.


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