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April 30. 2013 10:20PM

Nashua forum: Brighter future for NH begins with ideas

NASHUA - Residents, officials and business leaders from all over southern New Hampshire gathered on Tuesday to brainstorm ideas on how to make the region a better place to live, learn, work and play.

More than 70 people participated in the forum, hosted jointly by the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, New Hampshire Listens and the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Topics such as transportation needs, housing concerns, land-use regulations, energy consumption and economic development were all discussed in several small group settings.

"When we are all done with these various community conversations, an inductive analysis will be completed to see what concerns came up frequently," said Michele Holt-Shannon, associate director of New Hampshire Listens. "That input will be used to determine what matters in the state, which will then be incorporated into our regional master plans."

In order to keep New Hampshire communities vibrant, local voices are necessary to share the hopes of Granite State residents now and in the future, according to Kerrie Diers, executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.

In one group discussion on Tuesday, participants expressed significant concerns about New Hampshire's aging population, lack of affordable rental opportunities and inadequate transportation.

"Many people are nearing retirement, and there is no one waiting in the wings," said Jason Hoch, town administrator for Litchfield. Others agreed, saying many young people are leaving the state after graduation, opting not to return once they find employment elsewhere.

According to census data provided on Tuesday, New Hampshire has a high proportion of its workforce near retirement age while its population is growing older and families are having fewer children.

As the population ages, there are other concerns regarding transportation for the elderly and housing for senior citizens, according to those in attendance.

While there are several senior housing developments being constructed, there is not a lot of affordable rental properties in southern New Hampshire for young individuals and families, according to Eileen Brady of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter.

"We are in one of the most expensive areas because we are so close to Boston. We see people who can't afford a place on their income," said Brady, adding the median rent in Nashua is $1,100 a month. "Rentals are very high."

Her comments were echoed by Linda Kipnes of Hudson, who said more diverse housing is necessary to improve the quality of life in southern New Hampshire.

Brady said there is also the problem of inadequate transportation for people who cannot afford their own vehicle. Many jobs that were once available in the inner city have moved to outlying areas, making it difficult for those individuals without cars to obtain adequate jobs.

"Economically, New Hampshire is doing pretty good. Earnings are pretty high," said Chuck Lothrup of Nashua.

While New Hampshire's unemployment rate is significantly lower than the national rate, and state's residents, for the most part, do have more wealth compared to national averages, Hoch said those numbers could be skewed by the southern portion of the state.

Overall, the group said the state must do more to attract the younger population to stay in New Hampshire, while also providing diverse housing opportunities where people can live, work and play in a closer vicinity that does not rely so heavily on transportation.

Tuesday's community conversation was one of 11 meetings being held to determine ways to improve New Hampshire's lifestyle as part of the Granite State Future project.

khoughton@newstote.com

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