March 29, 2007

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Concord Publisher's Note: Bostonís loss, Concordís gain
By†Dan Szczesny

Rising rents and home values in Boston could be a major boon for southern New Hampshire and the Concord area.

In an opinion piece recently in the Wall Street Journal, think tank wonk Joel Kotkin argues that the high cost of living in cities such as Boston, New York and San Fransisco has fueled the growth of secondary cities, including Charlotte, Houston and Atlanta. Based on that argument itís reasonable to conclude that the high cost of the New Yorks and Bostons of the country has helped push growth into smaller satellite or suburban areas, such as Manchester (and, yes, that includes Concord), Providence or northern New Jersey. Another problem for expensive cities like Boston is that younger people are choosing to live elsewhere, in places where they can afford to live. Providence has been lucky enough to get some of that youth spillover.

Southern New Hampshire, on the other hand, hasnít seen as much of that spillover. And thatís a shame because, according to Kotkin, younger workers ó who plan to have families ó are key to an areaís economic growth.

Concord and the greater southern New Hampshire region need to do more to attract students and workers fleeing the high rents and home values in Boston. The growth in nightlife, in terms of restaurants, bars, shows and sporting events, has helped in recent years, as have groups such as the Concord young professionals. But more needs to be done. There are other thing that help a region grow, but these are a big ones:

ē For starters we need jobs. The Merrimack Valley is blessed with a number of small to medium-sized businesses that continue to grow. However, more large employers, such a Fidelity, would do wonders in attracting younger workers to the area. Itís been disappointing to see how this areaís economic developers have failed again and again to attract these types of employers. Concord has plenty of space for a large-scale employer, such as Jefferson Pilot, which essentially exited the area a decade ago.

ē We also need more of an entertainment infrastructure. That doesnít necessarily mean nightclubs, though they are an important component of growing that. Restaurants, parks, museums, the arts, cafťs, colleges, skiing and other lifestyle attractions are necessary to bring up those Boston workers. Property tax abatements are a tool that Concord could use to encourage more of those businesses.

ē Property values and apartment rents need to be reasonable. As it is now, rents and home values are far lower here than they are in the Boston area. Without more building, however, prices could out-run incomes, making it too expensive to live here. Area towns could encourage denser development, with cluster housing and condos, leaving more forest and field areas open but still allowing for residential growth.

In the end it will take a concerted effort for our leaders, state and local, to take advantage of Bostonís loss. As it is now, there is little of that leadership.