Brian Gottlob, director of the N.H. Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, has been watching the state’s economy for decades. He’s witnessed the dotcom boom, the housing slowdown and the Great Recession. He knows the dynamics that affect employment, home sales, rental prices and consumer spending in all parts of the Granite State.
Recently, Gottlob came to Keene to speak at the behest of the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce. He gave his assessment of the Monadnock Region’s economic state, and it was a mixed bag of bright signs and troubling trends.
To begin with, he noted Cheshire County was second-to-last in job growth among the state’s 10 counties from 2010 to 2018. To put it bluntly, the job market has been stagnant during the past eight years, growing only 0.4 percent. Part of that is likely related to this nugget: The county’s population actually dropped during that span, by 0.8 percent.
Without workers, it’s hard to grow an economy. And without jobs, residents have less to spend, wages don’t rise and the local tax burden falls more heavily on residential property owners.
Gottlob also noted the lack of available housing stock — not just affordable housing, but overall rental units — is at a critical point in the region. Particularly in Keene, he pointed out, there’s lots of housing for students, and there are single-family homes on the market. For those seeking something in between? Not so much.
He also cited a need for improved transportation, entrepreneurship and broadband access in the area.
But there are some reasons for optimism. Gottlob said the city has seen an in-migration of young adults, despite the housing situation. Keene also saw an influx of residents from other parts of the state, especially those with more education.
Gottlob noted other communities in the state, including Dover and Portsmouth, have invested in infrastructure that’s been successful in attracting young professionals. In turn, that’s made those cities more vibrant.
There are signs of similar developments here. In Keene, large apartment complexes are opening soon — in the former Colony Mill Marketplace and behind the old Keene Middle School. A partner with Brady Sullivan Keene Properties said last week apartments at the Colony Mill — 89 of them – will soon be open, at prices ranging from $1,300 to $2,550 per month. In May, a representative of MDP Development said the apartments off Spring Street would rent for $1,080 and up, depending on the size and location in the four-story building.
Those might not seem “affordable” to some prospective renters — the National Low Income Housing Coalition puts fair market rents in Cheshire County at $841 for a one-bedroom apartment. But the increase in units could put more downward pressure on other rental spaces in the area.
In a graying state and a relatively rural region that lags in transportation options and broadband access, that, at least, passes for good news.