Op-ed: New Hampshire’s “Out of State” Problem

USA, New Hampshire, Welcome to New Hampshire sign

By Winter Trabex

May 30, 2024

New Hampshire is a bit of an odd state, even by New England’s standards. It hosts an increasingly aging population, has the lowest state minimum wage in the region (none at all), and features a diversity of taxable income sources rather than a state income tax. The state has also had the lowest housing costs in the region- until recently, when a lack of supply and increasing demand have caused a housing crunch in the state. Homelessness in NH continues to worsen while landlords- both local and out of state- charge increasingly high amounts in rent.

The New Hampshire Advantage, a name which invokes the state’s reticence to create any kind of income tax at all, causes a lot of traffic to go back and forth on Interstate 93 and State Route 3 headed down to Massachusetts. The traffic is most prevalent during morning and evening rush hour times when people who live in New Hampshire for low housing costs travel down to Massachusetts for high-wage jobs.

Meanwhile, citizens of Massachusetts often travel north to purchase products without paying a sales tax while citizens of New Hampshire travel south to spend money at Marijuana dispensaries. Instead of keeping the money in the state and gaining taxable revenue thereby, the New Hampshire state government this year will continue its long history of not legalizing marijuana, despite the clear advantage of doing so: New Hampshire could set its own tax rates (if any) lower than than any other state in the region and draw away customers from Massachusetts who would prefer to travel to pay lower prices.

Some of New Hampshire’s nursing homes are locally owned and operated, such as the Hillsborough County Nursing Home, which can service up to 300 people at any given time. Others, such as Mineral Springs in North Conway, are owned by out of state operators; Mineral Springs is owned by Sunbridge Healthcare LLC. Sunbridge owns 41 facilities in 14 different states.

Sunbridge currently owns eight nursing care facilities in New Hampshire and has previously owned five others. Among those currently owned are: Applewood Center in Winchester, NH; Bedford Hills Center in Bedford, NH; and Crestwood Center in Milford, NH.

Some apartment buildings are owned and operated by local residents, such as Red Oak, which services Manchester and Milford. The company is owned by NH native Ron Dupont. Other companies, such as Lincoln Avenue Communities, will be the owners of a proposed affordable housing project in development in Manchester. Lincoln Avenue serves 50,000 residents across 26 states. They are based in Santa Monica, California.

New Hampshire’s out of state problem has even touched politics. The Republican / Libertarian group Free State Project, founded in 2001, has been bringing in members from across the nation to live in New Hampshire and run for state and local office on the premise of reducing the size of government as much as possible. The residents of Croydon, who saw their education budget drastically reduced at the behest of FSP members Jody and Ian Underwood, revolted against it by insisting on a vote to overturn the new changes.

The Free State Project has largely been ineffective at creating a libertarian-led state, which was the original goal as outlined by founder Jason Sorens. Instead, its members, such as former president Rachel Goldsmith, joined Moms for Liberty. In 2023, the Southern Poverty Law Center recognized the group as an extremist anti-student hate group.

While data indicates young people are moving into the state, employers in NH continue having a difficult time filling positions during a time of rising rents and stagnating wages. Some young people move to NH to due remote work. Others commute to other states. Still others seek higher education opportunities elsewhere.

The result: while unemployment is low, a labor shortage persists. People just aren’t seeking jobs locally. This has been the case in the White Mountains region, where hospitality workers had to be sought from abroad rather than hired from people in the community. A bill signed into law in 2023 makes it easier for professionals to transfer their out of state licenses to NH, should they decide to come work in the state. The New Hampshire Senate recently passed HB 1298, a bill which would allow local school districts to hire uncertified, part-time teachers under 30 hours a week.

NH’s out of state problem, while manifesting in a variety of different ways, has largely caused economic dysfunction. NH residents shop for marijuana out of state. They work out of state jobs. NH seeks out of state companies to develop and own large properties, both for-profit and nonprofit. NH relies on out-of-state residents to support its local businesses, which was the case for Manchester’s yearly taco tour event.

So long as New Hampshire functions as a economic colony for the rest of the nation, the state will be unable to compete with other states for new job centers; there may be enough warm bodies to support such a center, but would young professionals living in NH be willing to give up remote work jobs which offer higher wages and a comfortable working environment?

In 2023, NH was projected to be tenth worst in the nation for nursing shortages. A nurse, as someone who can basically take their qualification anywhere in the country, hasn’t been looking at New Hampshire as a desirable destination to work. This projection was given two years after the NH Nursing Board streamlined its licensing process.

In order to solve the out of state problem, money must be retained inside the state as much as possible. Workers in New Hampshire must get the highest wages in the country, while at the same time paying the lowest amount in rent. NH must legalize marijuana as soon as possible and open up dispensaries all across the state with competitive pricing; the state should be able to attract tourists from Colorado and California who come to enjoy lower pricing options than they get in their home state.

New Hampshire must increase its affordable housing stock- a process that will not be easy or quick. Attracting talented workers to fill local positions means having a place for those workers to live. In the short term, before such housing options arrive, New Hampshire could make itself the national leader in attracting people who live in motorhomes and buses, allowing such individuals to spend their money in the state instead of in another state.

The New Hampshire state house should also stop signaling that it wants to curtail or eliminate transgender rights, thus preventing transgender individuals living in NH to move out of the state to find a more hospitable environment. Pushing people out of the state through legislative animadversion during a time when companies can’t hire enough workers is short-sighted and self-destructive.

If those in positions of power in New Hampshire wish to develop a competitive economy, the out of state problem must be confronted and defeated. If it is not, the state will continue to stagnate and struggle along while other states enjoy greater prosperity.

Author

  • Winter Trabex

    Winter Trabex is a freelance reporter who has been living in Manchester since 2016. She primarily works for Manchester Ink Link, but also takes odd jobs with the Associated Press. She covers politics, economics, homelessness issues, and women's tackle football.

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