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Sununu Defends Results of Efforts to Recruit Out-of-State Businesses

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

All this week All Things Considered is speaking with candidates for New Hampshire governor about economic policy. Today NHPR’s Peter Biello spoke with incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

(This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

On the campaign trail in 2016 you promised to visit 100 businesses and invite them to move to New Hampshire. You've announced that you've spoken to more than 100 businesses. What benefit has that been to the state?

It’s been huge. I mean we did 100 businesses in 100 days, I think we did just over 127. Think about this, Canada is our number one trading partner. Yet no governor had even visited Canada in 10 years to talk economics and opportunity. So within the first couple of months I went to Quebec and I sat with businesses all over the eastern part of Canada. 

Has that yielded anything? Has anyone decided to leave?

Yeah, we've seen businesses come in. I sat with a woman from a small company in Arizona. I sat with a gentleman with a small company just outside of Montreal. He's in Berlin now, she's over in Portsmouth. We have had large companies come in. We talked to businesses in Massachusetts all the time that are trying to, again, create more opportunity and flexibility for themselves and their workers. They're coming up here. We have had businesses that were thinking one time of leaving, expanding elsewhere, like Hitchiner or BAE. They're now here and they're investing millions of dollars right here in New Hampshire. Lonza is a great example of an international company that decided, with the Trump tax cuts, they were going to make a very large investment in one of their facilities around the world. They chose Portsmouth. 

So you're saying that there's basically a handful out of the 127 that have decided to come here. Does that say something about the pitch that you're able to deliver about New Hampshire's economy, that perhaps it needs to be refined so that more than five out of 127 come to New Hampshire?

Well let's be fair. I just named five off the top of my head. There's more than that coming, not to mention when you're going to pitch these companies, some of them are thinking, they don’t up and leave the next day. Some of them are thinking about where to go, what that investment is going to take for themselves. So, no, we've had tremendous, tremendous success.

What investments would you try to make in your second term as governor for communities that maybe have not shared in the prosperity that some communities have experienced in the past few years?

Well, again, when we returned the money to cities and towns, every city and town got a check, every single one got a check. When we put that first $35 million out when we invested in school infrastructure, over 400 schools got our safe school infrastructure grants. I don't believe in picking winners and losers like the Democrats and my opponent does. I believe that you create equal opportunity for every community across the board. Everyone gets a chance. 

Does that mean that some constituents don't deserve some special help, especially the more economically depressed communities?

No, no, I just said everybody gets equal opportunity. I don't understand your statement right there. I just said everyone gets equal opportunity across the board. You don't pick the winners and losers. When we focus on safe school infrastructure or roads and bridges or clean drinking water, where there is a need, that's exactly where the investment goes. So by doing that you're allowing everyone to participate equally.

Let's talk about the Wayfair decision. You promised to give every out-of-state taxing jurisdiction and authority the fight of their life if they try to make New Hampshire businesses collect sales taxes on behalf of other states. Lawmakers convened at your request. They came up with no legislative solution. So where's the fight now?

We created a legislative solution, the House just decided not to pass it. In the meantime we haven't slowed down. We've worked directly with the attorney general's office again. We're setting up essentially barriers. To have other tax jurisdictions, whether they be cities or towns across the country, come in and ask our businesses to be their tax collector, that's not fair. That's not the New Hampshire Advantage. And we're going to keep putting up every barrier we can.

The next big step though is for the legislature to come back. I think they should take up the piece of legislation that we started, but if they want to craft their own that's fine as well, but they've got to move forward and they’ve got to get it done.

When it comes to keeping costs low for ratepayers, what progress can you point to?

We’ve done a couple of things. The first thing you have to do, what you have to do to keep rates low for electric ratepayers is not raise them, which is why Bill 365 and the net metering bill were just bad ideas for the state of New Hampshire. I know they overturned my veto. Unfortunately, the majority of electricity driven legislation is driven on politics not practical policy.

So first you start by not raising the rates any then you can do things like create transparency. For the first time ever I think we actually have transparency in our electric bills. You can see where your money is going. You can see what you're actually paying for.

We need to invest in renewable energy but we need to do it smart. We need to not just look at the environmental aspects but we have to look at the social and economic aspects as well and make sure, when you put all of those variables together, you're making the investment where you can really get a return in value for the rate payer, not just for a community or city but the rate payers actually have to see a reduction in those rates over time. Too often we invest in these large solar arrays and the city might benefit. They might save a few bucks but it doesn't trickle all the way down to the rate payer and we need to start making sure that that happens.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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