Keeping graduates in NH a challenge
March 1, 2010
By GREG KWASNIK
BEDFORD — In recent years, some regions of the country have enjoyed an influx of recent college graduates joining the work force. New Hampshire is not one of those places.
Despite ranking near the top of all states for overall livability, health and safety, about 50 percent of New Hampshire’s college graduates leave the state, according to Stay Work Play NH, an initiative to retain and attract young workers.
Exactly why that happens is a question that a group of young professionals tried to answer last week, during a panel sponsored by the New Hampshire College and University Council.
Chris Williams, a panelist and president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said the number of young professionals entering the state has remained relatively flat compared with many Southern or Western states.
“Just looking at New Hampshire itself, we were really doing OK — in fact we were even able to see a little increase, or a bump back up in terms of young people,” Williams said. “But when you start to compare New England to the rest of the country, we weren’t doing quite OK.”
Williams, who co-chaired a state task force to recruit and retain young professionals, said many young workers question their chances of finding a job in New Hampshire. Concerns about a lack of broadband infrastructure, night life, weather and social opportunities are also factors when young people decide to leave.
Rather than focusing on perceived limitations, some on the panel suggested that New Hampshire should be proactive and target a more specific demographic.
“New Hampshire is not going to be everything for everybody. We’re not going to be one of the great urban centers of the planet, and that’s OK,” said Thaddeus Guldbrandsen, director of the Center for Rural Partnerships at Plymouth State University. “I think the trick is to find people who want to live here and appreciate what we are.”
Some of those strengths include the state’s rich natural resources, high per capita income, good public health and tax friendliness. Williams said those factors have long attracted a slightly older demographic intent on settling down and raising a family.
But for younger professionals saddled with college debt, those selling points may not be as valuable. Graham Chynoweth, vice president of Dynamic Network Services, said tax breaks may be an effective way to lure young workers who repaying student loans.
But Chynoweth also warned that an aging population — and an aging Legislature — might make it more difficult to establish such youth-friendly policies.
“As we see the graying of the state — which is certainly a demographic reality — those decisions are going to get more and more and more biased to be anti-family, anti-young person,” Chynoweth said. Although New Hampshire’s population may be aging, there are still many reasons for young professionals to migrate to the state, panelists argued. Some mentioned the state’s high rate of volunteerism, strong communities and a talented pool of motivated young workers already committed to the state.
In fact, it is the young workers themselves who are striving to bring more young professionals into New Hampshire. In recent years, young professionals such as Williams have put their weight behind projects such as Stay Work Play NH and the 55 percent Initiative, which seeks to increase the percentage of college graduates who stay in-state. Ultimately, it may be the young professionals who end up convincing more young workers to call New Hampshire home.
“It’s a place that in many ways is small enough that an individual person can have an impact and take a leadership role,” Guldbrandsen said. “But it’s big enough and interesting enough that our impact will actually have consequences.”