(The opinions expressed on this page are not necessarily those of the New Hampshire Journal. The Journal welcomes opinions on all sides of issues and from all candidates for office.)
By COLIN VAN OSTERN
On this day last year, I sent friends and supporters a (slightly too long) emailrecalling ten memories, eye-openers, and lessons I learned in my first year representing a quarter-million of my fellow Granite Staters on the Executive Council.
Today, I take an oath to serve a new term. And this year, I’m not writing this email about me; it’s about New Hampshire.
Our state has made tremendous progress in the past two years: shoring up our economy after the Great Recession, repairing and expanding the social safety net, and restoring civility to Concord under the leadership of a Governor remarkably well suited to the task, who will be inaugurated today. To borrow a friend’s words, we have patched up the holes in our ship of state. Now it’s time to build some bigger sails.
The most critical job in front of us as elected officials is to unlock the potential for growth in our state economy. It’s the single issue front and center in my mind when I take the oath of office with Governor Hassan today.
So many critical issues we face – the state of our state budget, the quality of our schools, the safety of our communities, the welfare of our citizens, and the scope and equity of opportunities facing New Hampshire’s children and citizens – all of it can be improved more quickly and more dramatically by a growing economy than almost any other policy initiative before us.
There are many ways to drive towards that outcome, and while I don’t agree with every initiative suggested in Concord, I believe it is a sign of promise that leaders from both parties are offering policies that often shared a goal of growing our economy. When we agree on the outcomes we need, we’re halfway there. But we have to do better than the headlines that trumpeted yesterday’s first day of action in the State House.
My own belief is that the key to unlocking that growth is found in strengthening and expanding New Hampshire’s workforce.
Each Executive Councilor has an opportunity a few times each term to bring the Governor, fellow Councilors, and our state’s agency heads to a location of their choosing for a breakfast briefing and a full Council meeting as an opportunity to highlight an issue, organization, or initiative. It’s no accident that I’ve hosted these meetings at UNH in Durham, at the Business Finance Authority, and at the state’s Department of Resources & Economic Development, among others. It’s because some of the key ingredients to our growth include more college-educated workers with more affordable degrees; more new businesses that attract new workers and young families to our state; and the dual promotion of our state’s economy and the natural environment that is central to it. And, the need to strengthen our workforce is one of the biggest motives behind my relentless pursuit of getting passenger rail from Boston to central New Hampshire (and the projected 5,600 jobs that come with it).
In 2015, I look forward to broadening this conversation about strengthening and expanding our workforce – to examine how to boost our labor participation from within by considering new possibilities for expanding early childhood education, afterschool, and workplace policies that make it easier for every parent who wants to work to do so.
Last fall, our national economy grew at the fastest rate in over a decade – and with gas at $2.24 at the new I-93 Hooksett welcome centers yesterday, there is reason to suspect that growth can continue. Meanwhile, New Hampshire boasts, literally, the best quality of life in the country: good schools, safe towns, clean communities, well-educated workers and low unemployment. We have a once in a generation opportunity – and necessity – to seize the mantle of economic growth in front of us.
This is not an idle opportunity. Our state also faces real challenges: one of the fastest-aging populations in the country; sharply rising electricity costs; too-expensive college costs; and – if we don’t invest in our workforce – a labor pool that sometimes isn’t growing fast enough for our high growth companies (something I’ve seen firsthand in my professional work outside of the Executive Council, where I’ve spent the past five years helping businesses at two of our state’s most innovative organizations grow; SNHU and Stonyfield yogurt).
So, as I swear to faithfully perform my duties as an Executive Councilor for our state this week, I think first and foremost about how we stoke the fire of economic growth – and how to support our newly re-inaugurated Governor’s efforts towards that goal.
If you have ideas, proposals, suggestions, experiences, or case studies to share about how we can best do that, I hope you’ll share them with me.
(Democrat Colin Van Ostern of Concord was sworn in on Wednesday, Jan. 8, to his second term on the Executive Council, representing District 2.)