May 11, 2006


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Nashua Publisher's Note: Increasingly vacant city
By Jeff Rapsis

The latest edition of “Gateways to Greater Nashua” just came out.

It’s a handsome full-color “Relocation Guide to Business & Lifestyle” published each year by the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

Because it’s a Chamber of Commerce production, it’s no surprise that the 42-page guide paints a relentlessly rosy and upbeat picture of the area.

Leaf through the pages, and Nashua comes across as part Emerald City and part Garden of Eden. We’re kid-friendly, business-friendly, and a great place to retire, too. Why, it’s a wonder we aren’t named the Number One Place to Live every single year!

This is to be expected of a marketing vehicle designed to encourage newcomers—people and businesses alike—to feel welcome here.

But contrast this view of Nashua with how the city fares in a somewhat less glamorous publication: a recent “New Hampshire Office Market” report issued by CB Richard Ellis / New England, a major commercial real estate firm. Here’s an excerpt:

“The story of this year’s Interstate 93 / Route 3 Corridor office market is a tale of two cities, Manchester and Nashua. Nashua’s vacancy rate increased from 14.8 percent in 2004 to 19.8 percent in 2005. On the other hand, Manchester experienced a decrease in vacancy for the third consecutive year, starting at 17.5 percent in 2003, to 12.8 percent in 2004, and down to 9.8 percent in 2005.

“The decrease in vacancy in Manchester can be attributable to the recent improvements in infrastructure and cultural attractions to the downtown business district ... These changes have led businesses in other towns like Bedford to relocate to downtown Manchester.”

Hey! Are they talking about the same city there? Isn’t Nashua kid-friendly, business-friendly and a great place to retire? Why are we increasingly vacant?

The lesson is that Nashua might have a lot to offer (as seen in the “Gateways” booklet), but the reality is that we’re slowly losing ground to other cities in our region. And one of the reasons is the lack of long-term will to take bold steps to make Nashua an exciting place, and not just in our Chamber of Commerce literature.

In Manchester, the city led the development of several major projects in the past decade, including a new sports arena, a riverside baseball stadium, and big improvements to its downtown and Millyard district.

The payoff, which indeed was a long time coming, is seen in the CB Richard Ellis report, which clearly shows how economic prosperity follows public investment.

When I was growing up in Nashua not too long ago, the only reason to go to Manchester was to appear on Channel 9’s old Uncle Gus kiddie show. Now there are plenty of reasons to go, and that didn’t happen by accident. It took long-term vision and investment and planning.

Nashua has taken baby steps in this direction: the downtown RiverWalk, the special tax district to allow the Jackson Mills condos to be built. But these alone won’t be enough to turn the tide.

A generation from now, what reasons will people have to come to Nashua? If we’re going to continue to live up to the Chamber of Commerce’s image when, say, it’s time for someone my age to retire, then we need to be actively making plans now.

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