June 7, 2007

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Publisher's Note: Be the Burlington
By Jody Reese

So some in Vermont think they’re better than us Granite Staters because they have Burlington, a wonderful college town full of nightclubs, restaurants and shopping. Sadly they might be right.

It’s not enough to have beautiful mountains and lakes; tourists — and increasingly older tourists — want excitement with their pretty views.

Areas with this mix, such as Burlington; Boulder, Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona; Knoxville, Tennessee, and Savannah, Georgia, have done well in attracting younger workers, tourists and boomers who want to live in cities.

While New Hampshire doesn’t have the same natural advantages of a large college town on a huge lake, we have Nashua, Manchester and Concord, three areas full of restaurants, nightlife and colleges. By putting this metro southern New Hampshire area together, we too have a resource that we can market to the outside world. Each area may not be large enough on its own to make a big splash, but together we have a half a million people, hundreds of great places to go out and explore — not to mention beautiful views.

For far too long, we have looked at metro southern New Hampshire as three or four separate areas. There is Nashua, Manchester, Concord and the Derry-Salem area. We compete with each other for business and seem to work against each other. In any other part of the country the drive between Concord and Nashua would be an average drive to get groceries or go to a movie, but here some of the more settled folks see that drive as some sort of barrier.

Fortunately, more and more people in metro southern New Hampshire see this area as one place, and a great place at that.

Now we need out business groups, business leaders and government leaders to see this area as one place too.

By joining forces, we have the opportunity to grab business that might otherwise go straight to Burlington.

Recently Manchester’s city government, led by the aldermen, chose to close down the convention and visitors bureau. In a tough budget year some might have thought that spending money on getting conventions to come to Manchester was frivolous. It was a shortsighted decision.

Nevertheless, there still is some hope that the state will step in and fund the group to promote conventions throughout the whole state. I would urge the towns in metro southern New Hampshire to set up a Merrimack Valley convention group and pay them, like the towns around Burlington pay the Lake Chamberlain Chamber of Commerce, to promote their area.

New Hampshire already does a great job of selling itself as a place to ski, boat or hike. To capture more tourist and convention dollars and encourage young people to live here, this area holds the key, just as Burlington does for northern Vermont. We have the hotel rooms, the restaurants, the bars, a great business environment, the airport.

Why not leverage that?