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Losing population amid the summer blahs, by John McGauley

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The census says we lost about 1 percent of our population in the past 10 years, while at the same time the state gained the equivalent of our entire Cheshire County population.

Every time we lose a company or a factory or a big store, the same people come out of the woodwork and get their names in The Sentinel to say we need to do more to attract people to this area. More business, more industry, more young people. More plans.

Blah, blah, blah. Set up a new committee, do a new study, hold a public meeting. Hire consultants. By golly, we’re going to do it! Next Tuesday!

It’s been this way for years.

And nothing changes.

Nothing.

All the blathering always boils down to two priorities, which consist of 1) Do this! and 2) Do that!

And then we don’t do anything.

All this flop-sweat hasn’t altered the demographic landscape or economic prosperity around here in years, except to shove it into reverse.

Let’s just accept the status quo, enjoy what we have, and go to dinner at some of our swell restaurants.

Let’s take a deep, realistic look at our situation.

It turns out, we can’t change anything.

We can’t change our highways. Interstate 91 is still 17 miles away and in another state. All the roads in and out of Cheshire County are winding, two-lane affairs. Can’t change that. If we could, we would have.

Railroads? Those got torn up two generations ago. Now they’re nice bike paths. Can’t bring them back.

The airport? Except for C&S’s hangar, we can’t overnight corporate jets. A few Cessnas take off and land.

Real estate taxes? Keene’s are among the highest in the United States, and some of the county’s towns are up there, too. It’s not in the DNA of either the Keene City Council or the school board to contain spending. For God’s sake, it’s almost a done deal to build a new $7.5 million fire station, when we just got a new palace of a station downtown and the second one in West Keene is working fine.

Our legislative delegation in Concord? Too many ideologues who can’t figure out how to wheel and deal and drag the pork back home.

So, when The Sentinel published a story about our county’s population reversal, here’s what was said:

“Historically, Cheshire County and Keene and the surrounding area have had pretty flat population growth, so it’s not really that surprising that that trend is continuing,” said Keene Mayor George S. Hansel.

Obvious blah.

“In order to be an economically vibrant and relevant area, you need to have people here to fill the jobs, you need to have people here to exchange ideas and come up with innovative things …” the mayor said.

Dream blah.

Phil Suter, president and CEO of the Greater Keene and Peterborough Chamber, said population decline can have a “domino effect,” from lower enrollment in schools to companies not having enough workers, or not locating here in the first place.

Obvious blah.

The Monadnock Region has a lot to attract newcomers in terms of economic opportunity and quality of life, said Suter, who retires at the end of the month. “What the region hasn’t done a particularly good job of over the years is telling people about that.”

Yes, blah.

The chamber is working on a multi-year effort to brand and market the region to visitors, students, workers and young families, Suter said.

Multi-year blah.

“We’re not gonna get everybody who wakes up one day and says, ‘I’ve had enough of New York,’ ” Suter said. “They’re not all gonna move here. But as they’re looking at various options, we want to make sure we’re one of the options.”

Filler blah.

Todd Horner, senior planner at the Southwest Region Planning Commission, noted that Cheshire County is, at least, not seeing the dramatic population declines that some rural places are.

So? blah.

Creating a “greater diversity of housing options” is key to growth, Horner said. “If we want more people to move to the region, we need to find a place for them to live.”

Housing blah.

“I have a lot of confidence in Keene and the surrounding area as being an attractive place to live for a lot of people,” Hansel said. “We have great schools, we have excellent job opportunities and amazing recreational opportunities. But we need to create paths forward for people, and that involves building new housing.”

Political planning blah.

Hansel said he wants to bring local institutions and other municipalities together in the coming months to work toward meeting the Monadnock Region’s housing needs. “We do need to grow,” he said. “We have hundreds of jobs available and unfilled in the greater Keene area.”

It’s a blah-fest.

We haven’t done anything to change the status quo because we like the status quo.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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