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With major branding push, chamber hopes to draw people to Monadnock Region
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For years, Keene’s chamber of commerce has been working on a plan to attract more people to the region. And after learning this work will benefit from a federal grant, chamber leaders are gearing up to put that plan into action.

This summer, the chamber will launch a new branding and marketing campaign focused on drawing visitors, workers, higher-education students and young families to southwestern New Hampshire. The project, which the chamber calls the Promoting the Monadnock Region Initiative, aims to secure the area’s long-term economic stability as its population continues to age.

“New Hampshire is one of the oldest states in the country, and this region is one of the oldest parts of this state,” said Phil Suter, president and CEO of the Greater Keene and Peterborough Chamber of Commerce. “So we have what I sometimes refer to as a demographic headwind that we’re kind of sailing into. That causes us to think about what we have the ability to do to kind of counter that headwind.”

The project will have two phases. The first is deciding how to brand the region. In the second, this brand will be used in a marketing campaign to attract people who are considering relocating or taking a trip.

Several years ago, the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce — which merged this past winter with the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce — started exploring how to counter the workforce problems that come with an aging population. The efforts started and stopped, but after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the chamber found the need to invest in economic development was greater than ever.

The pandemic also gave the chamber a shot at relief funding to help get the program off the ground. Last week, the chamber learned that the initiative will receive $300,000 in CARES Act funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, to be awarded in $100,000 increments over the next three years. The EDA received $1.5 billion from the $2.2 trillion relief package to provide economic development assistance to communities affected by the pandemic.

The chamber teamed up with Cheshire County to apply for the grant, and the county will continue to serve as the grant’s administrator.

The total price tag for the next three years of the marketing program is $600,000, with the grant covering half of it. The chamber was able to raise $100,000 during a fundraising push last year. Now it must come up with another $200,000, which Jamie Trowbridge, CEO of the Dublin-based Yankee Publishing and a member of the chamber’s board of directors, said will largely be solicited from the chamber’s business members, as well as local municipalities.

“To start with, we really will be going to the largest organizations, the ones that really stand to benefit the most from increased promotion of the region,” said Trowbridge, who headed up a task force that has been working on the marketing plan for the past couple of years. “We also plan, at some point in the process, to approach all the municipalities.”

With $200,000 for the first year of the marketing program already secure, Suter and Trowbridge said that in the next month or so, they’ll issue a request for proposals to find an agency to help with the branding phase. The chamber will also look to hire a project manager to assist in the first phase and run the project in its second phase, the actual marketing campaign.

The branding process will involve soliciting public feedback, they said, as the goal is to create a brand that not only appeals to people unfamiliar with the Monadnock Region, but also stirs a sense of pride and community among those already here. The brand will also need to represent the entire region, which includes all of Cheshire County and the western side of Hillsborough County.

“We plan to be very inclusive of input from the community; we want to get the brand right,” Trowbridge said. “The brand needs to feel true to those of us who live here. We don’t want it to be so aspirational that it brings people here who have different ideas from the residents about what this place should be like.”

The initiative’s second phase will put that brand to work. The chamber will use it in a number of traditional marketing efforts, which could include anything from print or online ads to billboards along area highways.

One simple but important undertaking could be installing signage that welcomes people to the Monadnock Region, Trowbridge said.

He and Suter, who plans to retire this summer, said they hope the initiative will extend beyond three years. They said the chamber will look to keep the contributions coming over time, so the program can continue after the $300,000 grant runs out.

Though this initiative is a significant project for the chamber, other chambers do community marketing campaigns all the time, Suter said. And the assistance from Washington will allow the chamber to finally get the ball rolling, he said.

“This is two things: It’s a big deal, and it’s also something we should be doing in the normal course of our daily life as a chamber,” Suter said. “We got a shot in the arm with the EDA grant, and a really important one. We worked hard for it, and I think we earned it.”

Report does not confirm, or rule out, UFOs in unexplained aerial events

A soon-to-be-released government report on unexplained aerial phenomena finds no proof of extraterrestrial activity, but cannot provide a definitive explanation for scores of incidents in which strange objects have been spotted in the sky, officials said on Thursday.

The findings of the report, due to be provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence as soon as this month, will offer no firm conclusions about what the objects — repeatedly detected by military pilots and others in recent years — might be, according to two officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address a document that is not yet public.

That the report, whose conclusions were first described by the New York Times, does not rule out extraterrestrial activity is likely to further stoke what has become a highly unusual national discussion about the possibility that unknown life-forms are visiting Earth, as senators, former CIA directors and former president Barack Obama express new openness to UFOs.

The report, mandated as part of a gargantuan pandemic relief package signed last year by then-President Donald Trump, emerges as what was once seen as a fringe conspiracy theory becomes more mainstream. It comes as years of political divisions and misinformation shake Americans’ faith in their government and fuel doubt about established science.

Interest in the UFO report was stirred further last month when “60 Minutes” aired footage of infrared video of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs in Pentagon parlance, taken by military aircraft. Ryan Graves, a retired Navy pilot, said that he and other pilots had similar sightings every day for several years.

Objects recorded in such videos have baffled pilots, military and intelligence officials for their apparent defiance of known laws of flight and gravity, Luis Elizondo, a former military intelligence official, told reporters on an April roundtable call.

Navy pilots struggled to understand the velocity and movements of UAPs they captured on fighter jet sensors. In one 2015 video recorded by an F/A-18 Super Hornet, a tracked UAP powers through wind recorded at more than 130 miles per hour. The pilots are heard discussing its possible origins before it oscillates like a top.

“It’s rotating!” one pilot says in bewilderment.

Among the early proponents in Washington of investigating unexplained aerial objects was former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who urged the federal government to take the potential for UFOs seriously.

More than a decade later, others are calling for a thorough investigation, including Obama, former CIA director James Woolsey and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. Rubio, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said the stigma associated with talking about potential UFOs shouldn’t stand in the way of a serious probe into what is taking place.

John Ratcliffe, who served as director of national intelligence under Trump, said this spring that there were many more UAP sightings than were publicly known.

“We are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for or are traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom,” he told Fox News.

One senior defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report’s details have not been made public, said one possible explanation is that the aircraft belong to adversarial nations harnessing unknown technology.

The Pentagon is increasingly focused on competing with Russia and China, which are making major strides in advanced technology, including hypersonic and directed energy.

According to UAP experts, some of the observed aircraft have no wings or visible elements of thrust or propulsion, or can change direction at high speeds with ease. Some of the UAPs lack telltale signs of terrestrial construction such as rivets and bolts and appear smooth and rounded.

Others have flown low over and appear to vanish below the surface, which was observed in a video leaked by UFO enthusiast Jeremy Corbell last month. Vehicles that can operate in the water and air have design trade-offs, but the UAP in the video did not appear to have any compromises, Elizondo has said.

Elizondo said the entire report, which is expected to include an unclassified section and a classified annex, should be released to the public.

“Wherever these technologies come from, they are clearly far more advanced than any earthly technology known to our intelligence services,” he said. “We urgently need our best scientific and intelligence collection tools applied to understand what our pilots are witnessing.”

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Public hearing
Proposed budget increase for Keene police draws scrutiny at public hearing
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Community members had little to say about Keene’s 2021-22 budget proposal during a public hearing Thursday night — except when it came to funding for the Keene Police Department.

All of the several comments made at the hearing, which was held before the City Council, were against the approximately $275,000 proposed increase to the police department’s budget. Those who spoke also generally shared a belief about where that extra money should go instead: social services.

Pauline Moll, who identified herself as a person of color, said Keene is not immune to the concerns raised over the past year about police bias and brutality. She questioned the efficacy of common steps police departments have taken in response to criticisms about law enforcement accountability — such as bias training and body camera requirements, both of which were recommended by a state commission earlier this year.

“Instead of expanding the police budget for reforms that don’t work,” Moll said, “we should fund the social services that will improve regular people’s quality of life and decrease our dependence on police.”

Keene’s proposed budget earmarks about $8.13 million for the police department, up from the $7.85 million councilors approved last year for the department. In total, the proposed spending plan includes a $63.4 million operating budget for the city, along with $2.9 million in bonds for general-fund capital projects, and would come with a 1.7 percent increase to the city’s portion of the tax rate.

Eight other people offered sentiments similar to Moll’s Thursday, urging the council not to increase the police budget and instead to give that money to community services that can help with situations police aren’t always equipped to deal with.

Matt Pyster, who shared a story about a mental-health issue he experienced that ended with police intervention, said having an officer present was frightening and only worsened his mental state. Having a professional trained to help people experiencing mental-health challenges would have been better, he said.

“I needed a mental-health professional who could talk to me without all the baggage that a police officer carries,” he said. “These events happened in [a] different city, but the situation could easily play out here in Keene as well.”

Meanwhile, Sabine Maloney pointed to the increased use of opioids in the area and said support for services that assist people battling addiction should also be considered. Similarly, Catherine Lang said that increasing the police budget doesn’t address the issues that often drive crime and called policing “a Band-Aid” that only masks those problems.

Keene State College student Emma Provencher also asked that funds be diverted toward support programs for people in the community who are struggling with financial issues, such as housing insecurity. Not supporting those organizations sends a bad message, she said.

“When we show that we are supporting an increase in the police budget and not those other services, we are showing that we don’t support the members of our community,” she said, “and we’re more likely to criminalize them rather than help them get out of the situations that they’re in. And I don’t think that’s right.”

Several people also criticized Keene’s BearCat, an armored vehicle the city received in 2012 after months of debate about whether a community like Keene needed the military-style machine.

Councilors did not discuss the concerns raised about the police budget during Thursday’s meeting, though Mayor George Hansel said the comments will be taken into consideration.

Following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer last spring, calls for increased police accountability could be heard across the country. In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu formed a commission that developed a list of recommendations for how law-enforcement agencies could improve.

The Keene Police Department has been looking into several of the recommendations, including the use of body and vehicle cameras and working with the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College on ethics and bias training for officers. The cost of implementing the commission’s recommendations was listed in the budget as a challenge the department will face in the coming fiscal year.

But the budget also says the department recognizes the need for social services, particularly when it comes to those that help people battling addiction.

“Enforcement is only one portion of the nationwide effort to deal with the opioid crisis and will yield diminished results if prevention/education efforts and treatment options are not effectively implemented,” it states.

The full budget proposal, which can be viewed online, will return to the council for a final vote on June 17.