We look forward to Mayor George Hansel’s impact on the city of Keene and its future.
Following a spirited though not always collegial election, the 33-year-old former city councilor and co-owner of a prominent manufacturer in town now gets to test his concepts for positioning Keene strategically and making welcomed economic improvements. He told Sentinel staff writer Sierra Hubbard last week of his eagerness to get going.
“The hardest part of it is like, you’re going a hundred miles an hour during the campaign and then it stops. Those couple of months in between really do make it difficult because I have a certain pace I like to run things, and I can’t really do much as mayor-elect.”
The mayor-elect days are over. Mayor Hansel took the gavel during swearing-in ceremonies on New Year’s Day and began his first term.
Hansel’s campaign focused on key areas of need for the city, including:
Zoning and planning, particularly as it relates to downtown;
Social issues such as homelessness;
And the arts corridor, an innovative concept that would create spaces for artists and performances in the Railroad Street/Gilbo Avenue areas.
In his itch to get going, Hansel has been doing the right things. He’s been consulting with ex-Mayor Kendall Lane on unfinished business and priorities, encouraging mentorships between veteran councilors and newcomers, of which there are six, and getting to better know and utilize a city staff, the key members of which he terms “amazing.”
This is precisely how he should get started — move forward with his plans, figure out how to avoid bureaucratic obstacles and rely on those who’ve been there, and, as they say, “done that.” There is a sense of urgency on certain matters, and it’s not always easy to make progress, but we hope these items are on his agenda, too:
As a member of the Monadnock Economic Development Corp. board, Hansel knows well that the region will be losing the services of Jack Dugan, its president, to retirement in the coming months. Dugan has as a priority building the arts corridor, or at least getting it off the ground. When he departs, the region will be without its maestro when it comes to leveraging tax credits, community development block grants and other funding schemes that have transformed Keene’s business, entrepreneurial and institutional landscapes.
The nagging problem of workforce is impeding business expansion. We think there are opportunities to work more aggressively with colleges and universities in the region, amplifying ongoing efforts to tailor undergraduate programs to local industry. Progress toward that end has been made at Franklin Pierce University with, for instance, C&S Wholesale Grocers, but more must be done with River Valley Community and Keene State colleges. Hansel, as a trustee with the University System of New Hampshire, is placed uniquely to build these relationships. It’s critical that more young people attending FPU, River Valley and Keene State find a reason to stay here after graduating — and that reason is most likely to be employment.
The mayor has mentioned concerns about transportation and the difficulties getting to and from Keene. The Dillant-Hopkins Airport is underutilized, bus transportation to airports in Manchester and Boston is woeful and the road network here is unlikely to be expanded in any meaningful way. These factors act like tourniquets, restricting economic development. Such challenges place more pressure on building a stronger digital access through broadband and 5G. Hansel should work with state Sen. Jay Kahn, who has made progress toward bonding of digital infrastructure in rural communities and is working to make “already serviced” communities such as Keene eligible, too.
Hansel, co-owner of Filtrine Manufacturing, will understand the importance of working with and fostering the success of companies such as C&S and Markem-Imaje. It’s concerning when C&S announces it’s losing its largest client, which occurred a few weeks ago; being responsive to these key companies, while obvious, is critical and may require more attention to keep them strongly rooted in Keene.
And the city, despite its prominence in this region of the state, can be a forgotten place when it comes to state government. The folks at the Community Development Finance Authority, thankfully, have blessed the city with tax credit financing, but it’s not a community that enjoys an open pipeline of support from Concord. Teen pregnancy, opioid use and poverty rates are way too high. Student achievement is too low.
There is much to do, to be sure. We encourage Mayor Hansel to be bold about the city’s possibilities, dogged in advancing the quality of life here and collaborative in seeing his plans through.
We, too, are eager for him and the new City Council to get started.