KEENE — Monadnock region business leaders cited the retention of young people in New Hampshire and increasing Internet speed and connectivity among their top concerns during a roundtable Tuesday with Gov. Maggie Hassan.
The roundtable was held at the Hannah Grimes Center business incubator hub and was part of the Live Free and Start initiative, which was started last year as a joint effort by the Governor’s Office, Business Finance Authority and Department of Resources and Economic Development.
The meeting was focused on encouraging entrepreneurism and making it easier for technology companies to succeed in New Hampshire.
Jeff Whitcomb, president of Communicators Group in Keene, told Hassan the push to expand broadband Internet connections in the Monadnock region through the New Hampshire FastRoads initiative seems to have stalled.
“Everything is done on the Web now. But it seems to have stalled, and that’s very frustrating,” Whitcomb said.
Jack Dugan president of Monadnock Economic Development Corporation in Keene and a member of New Hampshire FastRoads board of directors, agreed. “Without a question it has stalled,” Dugan said.
Small towns like Dublin have been trying to borrow money through issuing bonds to pay for the expansion of broadbands, but state legislation prohibits it, he said.
The lack of affordable and fast Internet connections puts New Hampshire businesses at a disadvantage, Dugan said.
“We can’t communicate as fast and as affordably as we should with the rest of the world,” Dugan said.
Many of the business leaders said more has to be done about keeping young people in state after college by reducing the burden of student’s debt and making it easier to start a business.
“We still need to attract and retain young people,” Whitcomb said.
He suggested a program that would help New Hampshire college graduates pay back their students loans if they stay and work in New Hampshire.
As the “token millennial” on the roundtable, Kevin Irby, an account executive at C&S Wholesale Grocers in Keene, said people of his generation don’t feel tied to the state they grew up in or from where they graduated from college.
“My generation thinks so fundamentally differently about retention and staying in one place. … I don’t know anyone from college who stayed in the state,” Irby said, adding he went to college in Vermont.
Having the freedom to act entrepreneurially at C&S has made a difference to him in terms of staying, he said.
Irby suggested a survey of young people that asks them why they are leaving the state could help pinpoint certain issues, but action would have to follow the survey, he said.
Sue Hay, founder of Launching U, said the state colleges should have entrepreneurship programs.
Hassan said one of the challenges for baby boomers like her is to understand the upcoming generation.
While it doesn’t resonate with people of her generation, the younger generation would love to live car-free so expanding commuter rail into and throughout New Hampshire is something Hassan said she supports.
Len Chaloux, president CEO and co-founder of Moore Nanotechnology Systems in Swanzey, told Hassan the challenges he faces as a long-time business owner in the state aren’t being addressed at the state or federal level.
Most entrepreneurs and business owners want to reinvest back into their businesses and can’t because of high business taxes, he said, adding that his company pays 44 percent in state and federal taxes.
“It’s less money we can reinvest in our business,” Chaloux said. “Seventy-seven percent of our product is exported to Asia and Europe. … Our competitors in Germany and Japan pay less than 29 percent.”