Without an accurate assessment of where you are you can’t chart a course to get to where you want to be. In the context of efforts to strengthen regional and state economies, however, plotting your coordinates seems especially difficult. For decades New Hampshire (including me) has become accustomed to hearing that its economy is “doing better than most other states” and that we can expect to grow faster than a majority of states and all other states in the Northeast. I have blogged here several times about how that is not currently the case but because about five people read this blog there isn’t much fallout. But when someone like me suggests, in a public forum, that NH is lagging and that superior growth is not currently the case for the state, you can expect some incredulity and push back.
When you speak in a community and present lots of data that suggests it is lagging even more, then you can expect the push back to more likely come with a closed fist. And when that community is close to where you live, well it’s probably best to get an unlisted phone number. I’m no prophet but if I were I think it would probably be impossible to be one in your own land. I like to be the bearer of good news but when the data doesn’t suggest good news is warranted I don’t change the data or the news about it that I bring. Long ago I learned that being right too early will feel a lot like being wrong. I don’t know who was more offended by my presentation yesterday at a local chamber of commerce, people who feel I know nothing about their community, the people who think I know nothing about New Hampshire, the people who think I don’t understand the U.S. economy, or the people who think I know nothing about any of these. An informal tally to-date suggests about an even split.
I am not a twitter user or follower, I am only marginally able to follow my own thoughts and activities throughout the day, but if I were and if I were able to expand the size of a tweet, this is how it would summarize my remarks at the chamber forum:
Economic growth is increasingly associated with concentrations of skilled, well-educated individuals and any state’s, region’s, or community’s longer-term prosperity is likely to be correlated with its ability to attract and retain these individuals. The ability to keep and attract this demographic is as much a requisite for job growth as it is a result so any region’s development strategy should attend to its capacity to appeal to this demographic and look to leverage the associated economic benefits . Understanding the direction of these trends in your community or region, likely tells a lot about recent and future economic performance.
If you happen to discover oil or shale gas under your state or community that tweet applies a lot less. In addition, small communities can see strong growth from just one or two businesses, but with some exceptions and over the longer-term, I think the summary holds true. I am a first generation college graduate and my beginning, and likely my ending, doesn’t warrant even a whiff of elitism of any sort. But making an association between educational attainment and economic growth apparently implies a disparaging of those who are not college graduates, just as the notion that NH’s economy is growing more slowly than some of the states that we are accustomed to regularly outperforming apparently implies an indictment of “the NH way” compared to to other states.
One or two years of weaker economic growth is not a signal of apocalypse, but its not a bad idea to wonder if it is and to consider ways to avoid it. For me, the apocalyptic story for NH would be that, over the longer-term, we become a slow employment growth state that is also a higher cost-of-living state.
High costs and slow employment growth have characterized too many states in the Northeast as well as California and they have all suffered as a result. But at least in California you still have nice weather.