When celebrated Concord resident and high school teacher Christa McAuliffe died in the Challenger explosion in 1986, an out-of-state donor offered $500,000 to build a monument in downtown Concord. As then-mayor Jim MacKay remembers, the city declined. Instead, the state built a planetarium. Today – 26 years after the state opened the McAuliffe Planetarium — the facility is on its way to becoming a private, nonprofit institution. Continue Reading →
“My parents wanted me to go to college, but I was more interested in earning some money to get a car. And then one thing led to another, and then I met my wife, got married, and there was really no turning back after that,” says mill worker Rollie Leclerc. “I really like working here. It’s a place where you can earn a decent wage and kind of live the lifestyle a middle American is supposed to. You have a house and a car and a decent living.”
“You sit at home and you watch the news and you see all these people that are 50 and older and have lost their jobs, and it doesn’t really hit home because it’s not affecting you,” Leclerc says. “But boy oh, boy, I tell you what, now I totally understand the hardship of finding employment, especially being over 50 years old. Employers do look at you differently.”
After he was laid-off for the second time, Leclerc says, “I wasn’t able to find any work at all. We got by with unemployment benefits, and we watched our pennies. But it was luck that the mill reopened, because the benefits were running out. When you’re living on that kind of money compared to what I was making at the mill, your wage cut is at about 70 percent.”
“I’m one of the fortunate ones. I didn’t have a house payment. It’s the benefits. Health care is nuts. I was paying $980 a month while I was out, with a $6,000 deductible, for myself and my wife. So getting back here and having access to health care is huge,” Leclerc says.
Leclerc’s hopeful about the future of the mill, but, “This time around, it’s been a slower start-up. When we shut down in 2000, and we started up [again], all our past customers came right back,” he says. “This time around, they’re a little reluctant. So we’re gaining their trust again. But it’s a slower process than we thought.”
Although finding work in the North Country at places like Gorham Paper and Tissue is hard, Leclerc says in some ways, having an education makes it tougher. “If you happen to have a college degree, you’re limited to where you can go as far as employment, unless you’re into the medical field, a few other areas. That’s why, when our kids go to college, it’s like a farewell. They never come back. Not because they don’t like the area. No opportunity.”
As part of our weekly “Getting By, Getting Ahead” series, StateImpact is traveling across New Hampshire, gathering personal stories from the people behind the economy. In our seventh and final installment, we talk with a longtime North Country mill worker who has been laid off, and re-hired, twice.
The factory floor of Gorham Paper and Tissue is a miserable place on hot summer day. The massive cylinders noisily turning watery pulp into paper are incredibly hot, almost oven-like, except that the water passing through them creates a thick veil of humidity.
Deeper into the mill sits the small, cool, control shack that is Rollie Leclerc’s domain. He is a machine tender, and part of his job involves maintaining the balance between tons of hardwood, softwood, and pulp coursing through the machines. This blend is key to making high-quality paper. Underneath the safety glasses and steel-toed boots, Leclerc (pronounced “Leclaire”) is a good-natured guy with a big laugh and an easy smile. Leclerc has been on this mill floor since 1977. And he’s proud of his deep family roots in this line of work. Continue Reading →
“I started building in the speculative market in 1987. My grandparents owned some property up here and decided that they wanted to sell it,” says home builder Joe Skiffington. “And I was doing renovations and construction in the Boston area. I came up to the lake and I said, you know, I wonder what selling vacation homes would be like? So I built a couple of them on spec. These were $79,900, so a far cry from what we’re doing today. But the process was fun.”
“It’s definitely gotten expensive. When we started lakefront construction–the first lakefront home I built was in 1991 or ’92–the lot was about $100,000, and construction cost was about $175,000, and we sold it for, I think, $309,000,” Skiffington says. “That was 20 years ago. Today, an entry-level product is going to be somewhere in the range of $1.8 million to $2 million to buy a new home, or have a home built on Lake Winnipesaukee.”
“I think it was a bubble in 2006 and 2007. I mean, it was just so busy, we were building seven of these $3 million to $4 million houses a year, and they were selling faster than we could build them,” Skiffington says. “People ask me, ‘When do you think it will be like it was in 2006 and 2007 again?’ And I say, ‘I really hope it doesn’t.'”
“A lot of people got into the business because they felt they just couldn’t lose,” Skiffington says. “When non-builders start building spec houses, it becomes a problem. There were too many realtors, too many builders, and then what happens is the bubble bursts and nobody makes money and everybody gets hurt. I’d like to see us maintain some sort of normalcy in a trend where price escalation is at a minimum.”
As part of our weekly “Getting By, Getting Ahead” series, StateImpact is traveling across New Hampshire, gathering personal stories from the people behind the economy. In our sixth installment, we talk with a Lakes Region home builder.
Summer is boom time on the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee. These are the months when the region’s tourist towns double or even triple in size as wealthy vacation home owners settle in for the season. But at the moment, one of these homes — a 7,000 square foot mini-mansion on Governor’s Island — remains empty.
Joe Skiffington’s company built this home back in 2008. Skiffington, 48, is a big man with a dark goatee and an easy smile. He’s part of a small community of Lakes Region developers who build high-end vacation houses — places with 22-foot high vaulted ceilings, exposed pine beams, basement saunas and amazing guest bedrooms. Upstairs, Skiffington shows off one of these guest rooms. Continue Reading →
“We were notified during the day. It was on a Friday,” says English teacher Jillian Corey about her layoff notice last May. “Many of us still had to teach class. And the kids were very aware that there was something going on. I was honest with them. I didn’t get into the politics of the situation or the money. I wanted them to understand that it was not a personal situation, because they become very protective of the teachers. It was not for them to be concerned about.”
“At Memorial, we had the [most] reduction in force notices given. We lost 29 of our staff. In the English department, it was six alone,” says Corey.
Teaching at Memorial High School is Corey’s first job as an educator. “I certainly thought I was perfectly safe from any sort of harm of this nature. You know, five years is a long time to be in a position,” Corey says. “So I was sad that the investment that I made in this community was being taken away from me.”
Corey says she still hopes to be one of the 62 teachers the school district calls back for this year. But, “I’ve certainly been looking for jobs in other districts. But when you have 29 English teachers let go alone in Manchester, there are certainly not 29 English teaching jobs in the state of New Hampshire right now.”
“I don’t pretend to have any sort of plan whatsoever about what’s going to fix this. I know we need more money. I know the kids need more money,” Corey says. “There’s hardly a person in this building that could tell you they have not lost their job, in this district, before. So this is an ongoing issue.”
As part of our weekly “Getting By, Getting Ahead” series, StateImpact is traveling across New Hampshire, gathering personal stories from the people behind the economy. In our fifth installment, we talk with a recently laid-off teacher in the Merrimack Valley.
Jillian Corey seems to belong at Memorial High School in Manchester. A teacher here for five years, she easily navigates the school’s network of dimly lit hallways, decorated with computer printouts and hand-written signs.
But Corey, a 32-year old English teacher, doesn’t work here anymore. She was one of dozens of teachers and staff laid off from the school district last spring. As she gives me a tour of the school, making her way past open lockers waiting for their final summer wash-down, the maintenance staffers and occasional educator aren’t bothered. Even if Corey doesn’t officially work here anymore, no one finds it strange that she would pop in.
When we arrive at her old classroom, however, a locked door shatters the illusion. “Um…unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be able to get into this particular classroom of mine,” Corey says, as we try to track down another classroom where we can sit down and talk.
NHPR intern Tina Forbes, also a crew-member at Nashua’s brand-new Trader Joe’s, brought one of those quintessential tubs of Trader Joe’s miniature chocolate chip cookies to the office today, creating a noticeable boost to newsroom morale. Continue Reading →
Assiah Russell started her jewelry business after getting lost in New York City in 2003. “I was in a jewelry district, took a look around, and thought it was quite wonderful to be lost there, and went into a store to buy some jewelry,” Russell says. “And they said, ‘Well no, no, no, you can’t be here! You have to be a wholesaler!’ To which I quickly replied, ‘Well, I am, and you’re my first vendor!'”
After a few years of selling jewelry out of her home and at special parties, Russell moved to her tiny shop on State Street. Five years later, she decided to move to the high rent Market Street. “I felt like my business had grown even during a recession. So I felt that the signs, for me, were pointing to making the move,” Russell says.
“It was a rather astronomical leap to move from State Street to Market Street,” Russell says. “The move has certainly allowed me to spread out and show my inventory better. I’m right in the center of the fashion district of Portsmouth. I’m hard to be missed.”
“It’s always a struggle,” Russell says. “I’m not trying to suggest that the streets are lined with gold. I think there is a recession and I think people are mindful of what they’re spending and how much they’re spending, to be sure.”
“Sometimes people are making more choices about whether they’re buying a gift or whether they’re buying something for themselves,” Russell says. “In other times, it was really easy, it would be ‘One for you, one for me!’ Now people make more choices.”
Although her first year on Market Street has been a good one for Russell, it, “Struck terror in my heart,” she says. “It was a calculated risk, along with a leap of faith. And when I got here, I think the exposure helped with the recession. I’m seeing more people here.”
As part of our weekly “Getting By, Getting Ahead” series, StateImpact is traveling across New Hampshire, gathering personal stories from the people behind the economy. In our fourth installment, we visit a bustling boutique in the Seacoast region.
Walk down Market Street in downtown Portsmouth, and you’ll see clothing boutiques, a kitchen store, a toy shop. Then there’s Puttin’ On The Glitz. And the name says it all. Inside, 60-year-old owner Assiah Russell is fussing with mounds of jewelry resting on her countertop, preparing her window displays.
“Eventually everything will have a home,” Russell says, laughing. “I just got done doing this window this morning. I had to get up at five o’clock to do it, because I like to have it done before the store opens.” Hands full of bracelets and necklaces, she gestures toward the finished product: Brightly painted mannequin heads sport wide-brimmed designer straw hats with pink, orange, and turquoise flower cut-outs dangling overhead.
But she’s not done yet. Russell points to the far side of the store. “Then this afternoon, because it’s a rainy day, perhaps I’ll get a chance to work on that window,” she says. Continue Reading →
“We’re in an industry that is not entirely recession-proof,” says Adimab co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross. “But the drug industry is a lot less volatile and subject to discretionary spending, because people get sick and they need drugs. Fortunately, we’ve been able to establish a sort of leadership position in the discovery of antibody-based therapies, and [the pharmaceutical industry] is very interested in accessing that capability.”
Unlike some Upper Valley start-ups, Gerngross says he’s had no trouble recruiting new employees for Adimab. “This is a very technology-driven company. And people that are really good at what they do, they want to play with other people that are really good at what they do. So the attraction is not necessarily geographic location. We have hired a lot of people from out-of-state.”
“Dartmouth is certainly a source of talent for us. But I would suggest, in general, most of our employees are at least college-educated. I would say probably more than half of them have advanced degrees, Ph.D’s, Master’s,” Gengross says. “And so those people, they’re done with grad school, and thinking about what they’re going to do next. And at that point in time, they are, in fact, quite mobile.”
“We just believe in, if you help us build a great company, you’re going to get rewarded disproportionately,” Gerngross says. “And that has helped us a lot to create a culture here that is very loyal. We’ve had very, very few people leave. And we’ve not had issues with people leaving to go to competing companies. None, in fact.”
“What has really helped is my previous company [GlycoFi]. A lot of people worked for that company. That company had been acquired [by Merck]. It’s now a Merck research site here. So not only do they have fairly stable jobs here,” Gerngross says, “but they made out very well financially, and word has gotten out that we treat people fairly, we want them to be part of something exciting and something that creates real value.”
As part of our weekly “Getting By, Getting Ahead” series, StateImpact is traveling across New Hampshire, gathering personal stories from the people behind the economy. In our third installment, we visit a biotech start-up in the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee region.
Deep inside a nondescript business park in Lebanon, a blocky, industrial building is getting a facelift. The inside has already been revamped, with big, glass-walled hallways and bright orange accent walls. Every so often, the staccato of hammers, whirring of drills and hiss of nail guns disrupt the quiet.
But those are just the sounds you want to hear when you’re running a young business you want to grow.
At 34 years old, Tracie Smith runs one of the larger farms in the Monadnock Region using the community supported agriculture model. “I started on a small scale, and over the last 15 years, I built it up each year,” she says. “But all of it was with the aim to follow my passion and grow good food. I’ve always been an idealist at heart.”
“We’re aiming every year to be able to keep our employees and pay them more and look into health insurance,” Smith says. “You can’t have a sustainable business if you’re losing people because you can’t offer them enough.”
“By the time I pay for all the overhead, supplies, and just the pay that I’m paying them–which isn’t even enough, in my opinion–insurance is a tough thing,” Smith says. “It would make it almost not profitable for me. That’s my goal, to get to the point so they can justify coming back every year.”
“Everyone was talking about universal health care, and it would be helpful to small businesses, I think, because it’s a huge cost,” Smith says. “But it doesn’t look like that’s happening, so I’m bound and determined to figure it out.”
Since I spoke with Smith, she’s figured out how to pay for about half of her returning employees’ insurance premiums. “Whether we have to grow the business, which I keep doing, in the aim to make it more sustainable, financially, that’s what I’ll do,” Smith says.
As part of our weekly “Getting By, Getting Ahead” series, StateImpact is traveling across New Hampshire, gathering personal stories from the people behind the economy. In our second installment, we visit a small farm in the Monadnock Region.
Tracie Smith has been selling mixed vegetables and herbs at farmers’ markets since she went to college. At UNH, she studied environmental horticulture. Today, at age 34, she still looks the part of a college hippie farmer, with her long curly hair and grubby jeans.
But as she inspects the crops at her farm near Jaffrey, it’s clear her casual looks shouldn’t fool you. Smith is a determined businesswoman. For the past 15 years, she has run a farm that uses a model called “Community Supported Agriculture,” or CSA for short. It’s a kind of subscription program where customers buy a bulk “share” of Smith’s vegetable harvest during the spring, summer or fall. And business is booming. Continue Reading →
Ed Butler bought the Notchland Inn with his husband, Les Schoof, nearly 20 years ago. “It’s supposed to get easier as you get older,” Butler says. “But that has not been the case here.”
The Notchland Inn was built in 1862. It is a classic Mount Washington Valley business: Small, independent, and catering to a niche market of elopements, newlyweds, and romantic getaways.
“There are some who succeed better than we have, who do have a little more breathing room as their businesses mature,” Butler says. “We are continuing to grow our bottom line. It’s just tougher doing it.”
With the inn’s unpredictable bottom-line, it’s becoming more difficult for 62-year old Butler and Schoof to plan for retirement. “There are ways to survive, and we will survive, and eventually, not have to be here forever,” Butler says. “Or, if we are here forever, then we’ll eventually become gentlemen innkeepers, because after awhile, you can’t do all the physical work you did 10, 15 years ago.”
“The real challenge, I think, is that the national chains can take a hit if the economy is slow,” Butler says of the chains that have sprung up in the area over the past few years. “They can actually come in and invest money in ways that family-owned businesses can’t, necessarily, because we only have one business. We don’t have dozens.”
As the country continues to struggle with high unemployment and a lackluster economic recovery, New Hampshire is doing surprisingly well. Unemployment is at five percent — much lower than the national average. And more people are starting small businesses. In our weekly “Getting By, Getting Ahead” series, StateImpact is traveling the state, gathering personal stories from the people behind the economy. For our first installment, we visit the White Mountains, where independent country inns that have drawn tourists for more than a century face new competition. Continue Reading →
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