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North Country
The PastHistorically New Hampshire, like much of New England, depended heavily on paper and grain mills to support its economy. With the decline of mill work throughout the 20th century, the state came to lean on traditional manufacturing as an economic driver. And although manufacturing is still an important part of New Hampshire’s economy, advances in technology and the decline of traditional fabrication work all over the country means factories employ far fewer people than in the past. Toward the end of the 20th century, Massachusetts became a center for high-tech sectors. And in turn, New Hampshire has been able to piggy-back off its neighbor’s success, moving its economy toward electronic component manufacturing and other high-tech industries.Despite these historic challenges, compared to the rest of the country overall, New Hampshire’s economy is still considered robust.But talking about New Hampshire’s economy as a whole is tricky business. That’s in part because the state’s culturally–and often economically–distinguished by its regions. So while tourism is central to the Lakes Region economy, it’s less prominent in the Merrimack Valley. And although high-tech work is integral to the Seacoast and Upper Valley economies, it’s much less a factor in the North Country. But keeping regional differences in mind, some overarching statewide trends do emerge.The PresentAt this point, a few industries act as main drivers for the state’s economy:Smart Manufacturing/High Technology (SMHT): SMHT is the largest and most important sector of the state’s economy. New Hampshire’s SMHT sector is mainly known for using high-tech equipment to produce electronic components. Tourism: New Hampshire has traditionally depended on its natural resources and recreational opportunities to draw in out-of-state visitors throughout the year. The Seacoast, Lakes Region, and White Mountains are the primary tourism hotspots. Health Care Fields: The Seacoast is a major hub for biomedical research in New Hampshire. And thanks to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the Upper Valley has become another center for biotech and other medical research. The state also hosts ten major hospitals, in addition to smaller facilities, that employ a number of health care workers.The FutureLooking to the future, economists say a number of issues could affect the state’s economy, including:Demographic Change: One-in-three residents is a Baby Boomer. As they retire, they’ll move into Medicare and Medicaid, which could place a further financial strain on medical facilities that currently count on higher revenue from private insurers.Health Care Costs: This issue is closely tied to demographic change. New Hampshire is second in the nation for the portion of private sector employees with health insurance. But as these workers retire, they’ll move into entitlement programs, which could force providers to shift the cost of care to private insurance programs–and, by extension, to businesses.Education Funding: New Hampshire operates one of the lowest-funded–and most expensive–state university systems in the country. Many young residents find it cheaper to simply study out-of-state. And many of the state’s young people also choose to live elsewhere. The decline of a homegrown, educated workforce could hurt New Hampshire’s tax base and overall economy.Energy Costs: The state has some of the highest per-unit energy costs in the country. This overhead cost can be a barrier for manufacturers and other businesses that use lots of power setting up or expanding in New Hampshire.

Maine Aircraft Manufacturer Considering Berlin

Last week Berlin got the news that a new company – which officials declined to name - could be bringing at least 150 manufacturing jobs to the city. NHPR’s Chris Jensen has talked to the chief executive officer of that company.

The North Country could be getting into the high-tech end of the aircraft industry.

Kestrel Aircraft Company of Brunswick Maine is seriously considering setting up a plant in Berlin.

“Well, Berlin is one of the locations we have been looking at and there are a number of very interesting attributes there.”

That’s Alan Klapmeier, the chairman and CEO of Kestrel.

Klapmeier says not all the details are worked out.

But he thinks Berlin would be a great place to build the composite parts – such as the fuselage and wings - for Kestrel’s new Turboprop, a single engine plane.

The idea of composites is to produce a material that is not only lightweight but extremely strong.

The Kestrel facility would be located adjacent to the new Burgess BioPower biomass plant. It had its groundbreaking just last week.

The biomass plant is backed by Cate Street Capital, an investment firm from Portsmouth.

Cate Street officials couldn’t be reached for comment, but Klapmeier says Cate Street has been trying to get him to locate in Berlin.

Cate Street’s fiery biomass plant and the electricity it produces are attractive to Kestrel.

“The advantage for doing the composites there include the fact that the power plant would put off a bunch of waste heat that is hard to do anything with. But since we need heat to cure the parts and heat the building and all that kind of stuff there is an advantage there and obviously lower cost of electricity is always interesting.”

The parts would go into the Kestrel Turboprop, which is estimated to cost around $3 million.

“So, it looks similar to a typical general aviation airplane, but higher performance. Three hundred and twenty-five knots, carries six to eight people, cruise at high altitudes, very long range.”

The company won’t start building the plane for about three years but Klapmeier said he would hope to be building composite parts about six months after a decision is made on where to locate.

“We would first build a relatively small facility that would contain the first set of toolings, it would have the right environmental controls, it would have the ovens and such. We would use that to build the test parts and begin training the workforce in the specific techniques required for the airplane. Then, the building would be expanded.”

Under the current plan, Kestrel would truck the parts to Brunswick, Maine for final assembly.

Klapmeier says the company would create about 150 to 200 jobs which would include local hiring.

But that number could increase if the company decided to do more at the site than make the composite parts.

Kestrel is a new company and it is still developing its first plane.

However, Klapmeier has a long history in aviation. He and his brother founded Cirrus Aircraft which specializes in composite aircraft.

Cirrus ran into financial problems several years ago and earlier this year a Chinese company purchased it.

Alan Klapmeier is no longer associated with Cirrus.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen.