Strengthening New Hampshire’s Economy
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is a term that evokes thoughts of long-distance stock plays in far-flung locales, but in reality, FDI plays an outsized role in New Hampshire’s economy. Approximately 190 foreign companies in 46 industries operate in the state, supporting approximately 8 percent of the state’s overall private-sector employment—compared with a national average of 5.4 percent—which translates to over 43,000 residents finding employment as a result of international investment.
State officials and the Granite State business community would like to see those numbers grow even larger, and researchers at Plymouth State University are helping. Representatives from all three cohorts gathered at Plymouth State in October for a dedicated forum—The Future of Foreign Direct Investment in New Hampshire—to share ideas and map out next steps.
The day’s keynote address was tendered by Commissioner Taylor Caswell, head of New Hampshire’s Department of Business and Economic Affairs (BEA) and an enthusiastic supporter of FDI around the state. “We want to continue to grow access to markets for New Hampshire companies and grow jobs for our residents, and FDI represents an exciting way to do this,” he observes.
The opportunities for cultivating FDI came into sharp focus for Caswell in March 2018 when he read the New Hampshire Foreign Direct Investment Report: Presence and Contributions to State and County Economies, the work of Plymouth State professors Roxana Wright ’01MBA and Chen Wu. “The specific issues around FDI in New Hampshire hadn’t been the subject of a study of this scale before, and it opened a lot of eyes in the state,” says Caswell.
Professor Wright’s follow-up report in May 2019—Foreign Investment and Business Activity Patterns and Trends in New Hampshire, 2001–2018—elicited further interest. It revealed that New Hampshire business activity involving foreign companies has been on the increase, with foreign business activity almost doubling in 2017 as compared to the past years with highest activity. So when conversations began about this year’s forum, Caswell was all in. “This is a good moment in time to have this conversation,” he asserts.
Caswell was especially enthusiastic about the chance to bring together practitioners from the worlds of government, academia, and the business community to brainstorm on strengthening FDI in the state. “It’s a big strategy of mine to advance cooperation within this triangle of resources, and studies such as these help to guide conversations on how we can move forward as a state,” he says. Given New Hampshire’s small size, these types of collaborative relationships are already baked into the state’s economy, Caswell maintains, but the results are often underestimated. “Strong working relationships between government and business benefit all parties, and drawing on the knowledge base within our universities, which are training the next generation of workers, can only help. Research like that done by Drs. Wright and Wu is very helpful in guiding our thinking about policy.”
APPROXIMATELY 190 FOREIGN COMPANIES IN 46 INDUSTRIES OPERATE IN THE STATE, SUPPORTING APPROXIMATELY 8 PERCENT OF THE STATE’S OVERALL PRIVATE-SECTOR EMPLOYMENT.
Study coauthor Chen Wu is equally enthusiastic about working collaboratively to advance the state’s economy. “I would like to see bridges built between foreign investors, economic development professionals, and university researchers,” says Professor Wu. “In geometry, the most stable relationship is the triangle, and I think the same concept holds true in this situation. If we can facilitate a strong collaborative relationship between these three parties in New Hampshire, everyone in the state will benefit.”
A public policy researcher, Wu says he sees tremendous opportunities for advancing FDI in the state through a holistic approach. “I believe we can facilitate an increase in overall FDI by strengthening the structure between state and county economic development professionals,” he explains. “We want to encourage a system in which state economic development staff have the information and tools to attract foreign investors to New Hampshire, and county officials have the tools to close the deal.”
Rigorous academic research like that presented by Plymouth State in its recent FDI forum offers excellent insight into burgeoning opportunities for foreign investment, Wu notes. For example, he says, studies show that two-thirds of New Hampshire’s FDI is located on the state’s southern border with Massachusetts, in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties. The research and tech support available to foreign companies, together with the skilled labor force in the area, make the region a natural choice for developing a high-tech cluster to attract more foreign businesses to the state.
“There’s a concept known as ‘FDI agglomeration,’” says Wu. “It means that foreign businesses like to be around other foreign businesses, particularly those from their own country. The proximity to one another allows them to share a labor force and strengthens their bargaining power with local governments. This concept is something that our state can leverage to great advantage.” The same is true on New Hampshire’s northern border, Wu continues, where Canadian companies are a natural target for outreach.
Study coauthor Roxana Wright is pleased that her research into FDI has resonated with those in the business development community. “Our partnership with BEA provides a very good example of how PSU integrates with majority stakeholders in New Hampshire and works with different entities to develop the state,” she observes. “Once we started working with members of the state’s economic development team, we became an integral part of important conversations, such as those surrounding the 10-year strategic plan and the role of FDI in New Hampshire’s economic future.”
Wright and fellow faculty members are now taking their research to the next step. “Now we’re looking at questions like, How do we make this information more actionable for economic development professionals? and How can we make New Hampshire a more inviting place for foreign businesses to relocate and/or grow?” says Wright. “As researchers, it’s important to feel like we’re part of something bigger in the state, so this work is quite rewarding.”
HOME COUNTRY OF FOREIGN COMPANIES INVOLVED IN BUSINESS ACTIVITIES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
(In Relative Order)
- South Korea
- New Zealand
Professors Wu and Wright, together with PSU colleague Professor Jonathan Dapra, co-organized the October forum. The three also coauthored two studies that were released at the event: “FDI 101 | An Overview of Foreign Direct Investment” and “NH FDI Data Commentary | Fall 2019.”
“FDI is a somewhat wonky term,” says Professor Dapra, “but we want to make it more actionable and accessible. At the heart of things what it really means is, if you’re a foreign company, we want you to come to New Hampshire and establish a presence.”
Unlike many other states, New Hampshire does not currently have a formalized office of FDI, Dapra explains, so identifying ways that researchers’ findings can be used to assist economic development professionals and government agents in attracting foreign businesses to the state is doubly important. “Our goal is to take FDI out of the clouds and make it actionable and meaningful,” says Dapra.
Dapra’s words delight Marc Jacques, senior political and economic affairs officer at the Consulate General of Canada in Boston. “We’re always happy to have any opportunity to help people understand how to trade with Canada,” says Jacques, who spoke at the forum. “Canada and the US work together incredibly well—we share similar political and economic philosophies, and we’re on the same page with respect to regulation. We enjoy doing business with people we know and like, and Quebec and Eastern Canada know New England well.” New Hampshire is historically Canada’s largest overall trading partner in both imports and exports, Jacques notes, so efforts to facilitate Canadian investment in the state make sense.
During the forum, PSU researchers gathered valuable feedback on ways in which they can make their studies more actionable for economic development professionals moving forward. They also collected data that will inform further development of MaiaGrowth©—a new FDI planning tool currently under development at Plymouth State, which was previewed at the forum.
Dapra hopes that the forum is just the first of many forays into bolstering the state’s pursuit of FDI. “I’d like to see a continuing dialogue in New Hampshire and then expand the conversation into other states,” he observes. “The forum was a great first step toward increasing recognition of FDI and moving the concept from economic speak to business speak.”
FDI is essentially about a particular type of client with specific needs, Dapra continues. “When we started to talk about foreign-owned subsidiaries, forum attendees quickly grasped how they could become a part of developing FDI in the state.”
The picture coalesced for forum attendees with the day’s final panel, a conversation with an executive from Revision Military, a Canadian company with a New Hampshire subsidiary. The executive and two New Hampshire economic development professionals joined Dapra on stage to discuss the company’s experience in setting up shop in the state. “After the panel, most of our guests said, ‘This made everything come to light,’” observes Dapra. “I think the real story, highlighting the impediments and milestones, was truly inspirational. Attendees realized that they, too, could be part of such a journey.”
Dapra and Wright also see exciting opportunities to leverage exploration of FDI for mutual benefit to potential foreign investors and Plymouth State students. “Dr. Wright and I run a student consulting class where students research and prepare feasibility studies for companies here in New Hampshire,” says Dapra. “We’re getting great results with clients, and I can easily imagine reaching out to foreign companies to say, ‘Would you be interested in a feasibility study for opening a subsidiary here?’ It’s a win-win. The company gets valuable information, and our students are afforded a powerful experiential learning experience.”
Dapra is enthusiastic about the long-term potential of the relationships being forged through exploration into FDI for both the University community and the state and is eager for alumni to understand the importance of the research and education taking place at their alma mater. “I want our graduates to know that this is a school that’s growing and innovating, a place where students can come, learn, and leave with distinct skills and values that they can use out in the world.”
The FDI studies referenced in this article are available online at go.plymouth.edu/ FDIforum.
■ Lori Ferguson