July 11, 2018REGION — The Coös County Democrat and Berlin Reporter recently sat down for an exclusive interview with District 1 Sen. Jeff Woodburn on the Coös County economy, what the underlining issues are with it, and what can be done to help fix it.
There is an economic inequality between the North Country and the southern part of the state, and Woodburn outlined some of these inequalities and how to address them in some areas.
While the labor force has slightly grown in New Hampshire and unemployment has dropped, most jobs are available in the southern half of the state. Grafton, Carroll and Coös Counties, the most northern counties of the state, make up about 49 percent of square miles with only 12 percent of the state's population of 1.35 million according to an article by WMUR. The labor force has slightly dropped in these counties. Coös County is the poorest among them.
Woodburn said that the state is "disengaged" with the North Country, especially Coös County.
He noted that we lost the county tax credit and the wood chip plant grant. He added that our rest areas are a "disgrace" and that the state has not "made the investments."
"I work in regulation issues and snags that need to be untangled," he said. "We need good roads, good infrastructure, reliable resources and services."
On a positive note, the Senator praised the efforts that has brought tourism.
"It has been a very strong piece of our vital industry," he said.
While tourism has boosted the economy in the North Country that seems to have slightly improved in recent years in other ways, Woodburn asks "who is it improving for?"
He pointed out that there is a high population of older people who are not on the work force and are on fixed incomes. There is a lack of young people. There are also "structural problems and long distances" he said.
He said we are 28 percent of the state with a declining population.
Coös County lacks important, better paying jobs in mechanical, logging and forestry, hauling and moving, said Woodburn. Additionally, there are a lack of resources for locals to build skills necessary for these jobs.
"If we open up the mills, we couldn't fill those positions," said Woodburn.
As far as retail services, Woodburn noted that it is difficult for parents to balance home and work commitments.
"How can we deliver services in a different way?" he asks.
He talked about how we need to attract young entrepreneurs; but "where will they live?"
He said the most important thing is to "make ourselves attractive for telecommuters."
He pointed out that having reliable connectivity in broadband and cell phone towers is vital.
He said that Coös County does not have a regionalized dispatch service which would save money.
On a local, community level, he said that it is very important to support already existing local businesses.
There is talk of regionalization of the schools and Woodburn said that talk has been going on for 50 years.
He encouraged to not be so hyper-focused on how many students there are in a school but to instead focus on how to improve the schools with what we already have.
The Senator declared that the area up here is a "great environment" with "cheaper housing costs" as a positive aspect.
He quoted George Bald, former Commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development: "'Attitude is more important than water and sewer.'"
"Everything works – nothing doesn't," said would Woodburn and encouraged to adopt that kind of philosophy.
"Build it, and be flexible," he concluded.