Newfound Business Summit Sets Stage for Economic Master Plan
By Boyd Smith, Newfound Lake Region Association
On Monday April 13, 2015 more than forty attendees generated a soft roar of energetic conversation in the usually quiet Minot-Sleeper Library as they waited for the first Newfound Business Summit to begin. The purpose of the Summit was to enhance partnerships between the business, academic and non-profit communities to build a stronger and more sustainable environment and economy.
Boyd Smith, Director of the Newfound Lake Region Association, started the evening with a round of introductions and audience input on what brought them to the Summit. Concerns included lack of cell phone coverage in Bristol, the need for year-round economic activity, and the desire for more social unity. Smith recognized these challenges and added, “The rich natural and human resources of the area, such as the ability to connect Bristol’s Central Square with Profile Falls and its network of trails and rivers, create huge potential for thoughtful and sustained growth.”
Paul Fraser, Chairman of the Bristol Economic Development Task Force, started the discussion by introducing the Task Force and its mission. Fraser stated, “The Task Force sees Bristol as poised for vibrant economic growth. Interest in businesses “making it in Bristol” has never been higher. The Select Board and Task Force have worked hard to lay the foundation for sustainable growth with interest and input from a variety of stake holders.” Paul then directed the audience to a local business survey to provide ideas for Bristol’s future.
Scott Stephens, Director of the newly-formed Central NH Chamber of Commerce, shared his insightful and heartfelt vision of what makes our region successful, and our potential for even more success. Stephens emphasized, “We need to develop critical infrastructure such as cell phone coverage, broadband, and health and educational services, and then continually market our community to convince families and businesses that already know about us to settle in the area.”
Dr. Shannon Rogers, Assistant Professor of Ecological Economics at Plymouth State University, provided a powerful addition to the mix – the concept of ecosystem services and how they benefit society. “Think of ecosystem services as Nature providing for our well being” said Dr. Rogers. “Forests give us timber, recreation and clean water; the soil provides us with our food; and the ecosystem as a whole surrounds us with aesthetic beauty and a sense of place.”
Dr. Charlie French, Associate Professor for Community & Economic Development at UNH Cooperative Extension wrapped up the presentations with some hard data on the local economy. Dr. French said, “The Newfound Region has a wealth of natural assets that help to drive the local economy, but much of our purchasing is done outside of the area. If the region is to effectively leverage its assets, it is important to understand the opportunities to expand existing, and to develop new, businesses.” He continued by adding “Economic data and analysis can help identify the leverage points, but it is people coming together around a common vision and rolling up their sleeves to do the work that achieves the possibilities.”
Audience members then asked questions and voiced opinions about next steps. Shawn Lagueux mentioned the perennial challenge of balancing the status quo with economic growth, noting a certain resistance to change in the Bristol community. Geoff Sewake, Grafton County Extension Field Specialist for Economic Development, noted the need for a place for people to gather, citing the example of how Littleton, NH installed pianos around the town and how this has created a quirky yet powerful sense of community. Sewake said “A sense of place and ability to live close to a vital downtown is an excellent way to build a stronger community.” Bristol resident Victor Field noted that small successes lead to larger ones, and that using the data provided by the panelists is an important part of crafting a successful vision for growth.
Smith concluded, “The Summit was potentially transformative. Ideas, passion, energy, and experience are powerful change agents. I look forward to being a part of creating a master plan for balanced and sustainable economic growth in the Newfound area.”
The Summit was a collaborative effort sponsored by the Bristol Economic Development Task Force, the Central NH Chamber of Commerce, and the Newfound Lake Region Association.