Publisher's Note: Going our own way
By Jody Reese
The news hasn’t been good. Food and gas prices keep going up while our home values keep going down. But the news doesn’t always tell the whole story and it especially doesn’t tell the story of southern New Hampshire.
While some in southern New Hampshire suffer from foreclosure, lost jobs and increased costs of basic necessities, most do not.
Home values are off from the top of the market, but are nowhere near 2000 levels. Another bright spot is homes and condos in downtowns. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, real estate in downtowns has done a better job of holding its value. Even those who own homes outside of the downtown areas in Manchester, Nashua and Concord still have significant equity in their homes. A third of all homes in southern New Hampshire are owned outright.
Southern New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is remaining low despite some sporadic layoffs at national companies. It’s unlikely that any of the area’s larger employers, like government, hospitals or BAE, will trim staff, though Fidelity in Merrimack and some of the big box retails might. There are still numerous openings to make up for retail job losses.
While paying more for gas isn’t fun, gas makes up 5 percent of the average family’s spending. Food from the grocery store comes in much higher at 15 percent of spending and its prices have increased at about 5 percent in the last year.
Without massive layoffs and a significant rise in food and gas prices, southern New Hampshire has a pretty good economic outlook.
However, this positive outlook shouldn’t be taken to lessen the impact of stagnating pay and rising prices, especially on the low-income earners. Business owners I’ve spoken to feel a pull back from consumers, and that, coupled with an extraordinarily long winter, has made 2008 a very tough year.
Another large issue facing most southern New Hampshire families is high credit card debt. Without easy access to credit through their homes, people are trying to trim those debts. That can lead to less spending.
In addition, auto sales have been weak. Nationally sales are expected to be at 1994 levels. That’s a very far cry from the go-go years of the early 2000s when incentives drove sales to all-time highs. Home sales too are stagnant.
But southern New Hampshire doesn’t heavily rely on auto manufacturing jobs and didn’t go through the huge new-construction boom of Florida, Texas or California — so there’s less of a fall.
Southern New Hampshire has a few other advantages over the nation. We have local banks that can choose to lend despite a national credit crunch and there are still some major building projects in the works, including Elliot Hospital’s new medical center on the former JacPac land in Manchester and the continued investment and redevelopment of Concord, Manchester and Nashua’s downtowns. All three have seen and will see further growth in the next few years.
So while the nation might see a recession, it’s likely that southern New Hampshire will be spared.