June 15, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Stag what?
By Jody Reese

Jimmy Carter knows all too well why Ronald Regan beat the electoral tar out of him in 1980. It’s called stagflation—the term for when high inflation occurs during a recession. And from the looks of things, there’s a very good chance that we as a nation are headed for it again.

With rising energy costs, lackluster home sales, and fewer high-paying jobs being created, Americans may soon find themselves facing an economic double-whammy. Wages will stagnate, causing spending to stall, which will lead to recession. But prices will likely continue to climb due to rising energy costs, higher interest rates, the depressed value of the dollar, and other factors.

Bingo: Stagflation, for the first time since disco was king.

That’s the big picture, but what about the local view? For Manchester, this could mean more small businesses closing down, a downward push on commercial rents, falling home values, lower commercial tax revenues for the city, and a general slowdown that will touch everyone.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If business and city government leaders recognize the threat now, Manchester’s local economy might escape the brunt of stagnation.

Off the bat, some easy fixes would be to lower building permit fees. Though fees make up a small portion of any building costs, it would send the right message.

Also, the mayor should put together a task force of builders and developers to look at ways to streamline city planning and building, so that projects can get approved more quickly. This will encourage construction and redevelopment when it’s needed most.

Another quick fix would be to halt any increase in downtown parking rates or fines. These higher fees and fines will drive business away. Don’t give business another reason to flee the city.

There are also big-picture projects that would help pull us through the coming squeeze. One example: the proposed UNH science center in Arms Park, which would certainly cost money but in the long run would add hundreds of high-paying jobs to the city and help attract high tech businesses.

Other projects to help vaccinate us against the stagflation flu:

• Develop the last empty mill building. The Pandora building, still owned by Dean Kamen, has been eyed for another hotel. Instead, turn it into a high-tech incubator, which would provide more economic benefit to the area.

• Offer commercial rent vouchers. Many cities have used these to encourage a diverse base of businesses in its inner core. Manchester needs more retail to complement the bars and restaurants. A voucher, perhaps provided by Intown Manchester, could be used to cover a deposit and the first month’s rent, so a small undercapitalized business has a chance of getting off the ground. Keep in mind, many of these would fail, but a few would make it.

• A renewed commitment to the city’s long-term future. The kind of leadership that brought us the Verizon Wireless Arena, Bridge and Elm complex and baseball stadium is the kind of leadership we need now more than ever. We can’t to fight stagflation with a tax cut.

Above all, Mayor Frank Guinta needs to focus less on his next term in office and more on the state of the city, now and beyond the short-term political horizon.


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