Chris Sununu ran for governor on a promise to reinvigorate the state’s economy, in part, by selling the New Hampshire as the place to do business. This approach isn’t new. Every recent governor has tried it to some degree.
If you listen to Governor Sununu talk up New Hampshire as a place to do business, two things become clear. He believes New Hampshire retains the qualities that made for boom times during the 1980s, and with the right policies the state can again be a magnet for businesses that want to grow.
“We are promoting new businesses, we are promoting a stronger workforce, we are promoting opportunities and we keep driving that up here. That’s the way we used to do it. And we had tremendous success with it. All the businesses in Massachusetts were flooding over the border. We can get there again.”
Sununu’s focus on how the state used to do it is striking given his age. At 42, he’s the youngest Governor in the country.
But it may also be natural given his personal history. Born in Salem in 1974, he grew up during New Hampshire’s boom years, including six of them when his father was governor.
“I am proud that the message of our performance continues to keep New Hampshire the envy of the nation.”
The current governor Sununu’s stress on making New Hampshire what it once was - an economy powered by new businesses and in-migrating talent seeking economic liberty - has been clear in speeches he’s been delivering to local chambers of commerce ever since he won election.
“We are going to keep lowering our business taxes. We have another set of business taxes that as you guys know are going to lowered. I’m pushing for another set to be lowered, at least by 2020.”
And for audience members of a certain age, this classic GOP message remains a resonant one. Ed Caron is a banker who sat the board of New Hampshire’s Business Finance Authority for decades. “When his father was Governor, You go back to the late 70s early 80s, there were a lot of companies that came across state lines, brought some great jobs, digital equipment, Budweiser plant, a whole number of companies.”
Caron says he knows plenty has changed over the past 40 years, but he remains convinced if Sununu makes progress in two key areas New Hampshire could again be a magnet.
“We’ve done it in the past, and I know for a fact, it’s taxes and it’s energy.”
But what worked in the past may no longer make sense. In the period the Governor hearkens back to, New Hampshire was growing at its fastest rate in history. The population spiked, as did the economy: the state GDP grew 75% in the 80s.
Steve Norton, who directs the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, says getting back to the boom years would take more than just lowering costs of doing business.
“We had these incredible demographic tailwinds for 30 years, and we don’t have them anymore. The migration patterns have changed. We’ve aged, the entire Northeast has aged. So our economic development activities have to be focus differently than the past 30 years.”
There are signs that Governor Sununu understands this. His push for full-day kindergarten as way to attract and keep a younger workforce is one example.
“We have to understand that the image that we show is the reality that is perceived.”
And, as he told a recent gathering of chamber of commerce officials in Concord, what he hopes to achieve is making New Hampshire the most attractive place in the region for the young and talented.
"When you get out of college in the Boston area, I want it to be known, 'Hey, I hope I can get a job in New Hampshire because that’s where everyone is landing.'"
A goal worth pursuing. But one unlikely to be achieved by salesmanship alone.