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NH's economy is stronger since the Great Recession

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader

February 18. 2018 12:50AM
Pam and Dan Morrison, shown here in 2013, opened Optima Bank in Portsmouth in January 2008, a month after the recession officially started. (UNION LEADER FILE)



The Great Recession sliced people's retirement accounts by half, forced thousands of homeowners into foreclosure and left thousands without jobs in New Hampshire.

But by many measures, New Hampshire has bounced back in the 10 years since the recession hit.

The state netted 22,460 more jobs during the second quarter of 2017 compared to the same time frame in 2007.

Foreclosures and bankruptcies also have returned to pre-recession levels.

And the state's median housing price of $266,000 last year came close to the all-time high of $270,000 set in 2005.

"Throughout the recession, New Hampshire held up better than most places in the country," said Dan Morrison, who opened Optima Bank in Portsmouth in January 2008, a month after the recession officially started.

"The economy's growing, the unemployment is low and wages are strong and growing," said Morrison, Optima's chairman, president and CEO. "Consumers are generally doing well, and businesses are generally doing well."

Rising wages also have outpaced inflation.

The average weekly wage, which stood at $823.23 in March 2007, rose to $1,015.47 in March 2017, coming in $38 higher even after accounting for inflation.

Industries that grew by at least 25 percent in jobs between 2007 and 2017 were professional and technical services as well as administrative and waste services, according to Anita Josten, economist at the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau.

And the state's economy is different than from a decade ago, according to Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

"We are more diverse with new growth in tech sectors, advanced manufacturing and health care," Caswell said. "Our unemployment is very low, and that is statewide. Many aging communities are seeing the beginning of renewals with younger people moving in and finding ways to help reinvigorate those communities." He cites Franklin, Concord, Littleton, Keene and Gorham.

Government regulations since the financial crisis have resulted in longer waits for people seeking a mortgage, according to Paul McLaughlin, manager of HOMEteam, an educational and counseling program for several organizations, including NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire.

Prior to the recession, people often could close within 30 days of applying for a loan. That time frame often now runs 60 to 90 days, he said.

Steve Bauer, executive director of the Mortgage Bankers and Brokers Association of New Hampshire, agreed.

"It takes 45 days on average; it used to take 30," he said.

"There's a lot of verification and reverification" of information, Bauer said. "It's all full income and asset verification."

Morrison said it takes long for house appraisals because many appraisers had gotten out of the business.

Dover economist Brian Gottlob said "one of the greatest impacts of the Great Recession is one that is not well known."

The National Bureau of Economic Research said the recession started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 - but its ramifications lasted years later.

For decades the state relied on people moving in from other states to keep the median age from rising rapidly.

"The Great Recession played a role in aging because it helped put the brakes on migration into the state," Gottlob said.

Many people couldn't move to New Hampshire because they needed to sell a home that had lost value, and also would have wanted to a buy a home in New Hampshire - "also not an easy task because of disruptions in mortgage credit markets and more stringent standards," he said.

"The Great Recession struck at what have been critical ingredients for success in the state, and it has taken a long time to recover from that. And while things like jobs and housing values show we have completely recovered, demographically we have yet to recover."

This month's swift gyrations in the stock market caused some people to think back to a faltering market in 2008. Back then, Fox Business anchor Trish Regan told the New Hampshire Union Leader she couldn't sleep some nights.

"I don't have that now," Regan said in a recent interview. "I'm very confident in our economy."

Morrison, whose Portsmouth-based bank has loaned more than a billion dollars over the past decade, agreed.

"Right now, things are looking very good, and signs suggest that it should continue to look good for the foreseeable future," he said. "A lot of good things are going on in the economy."

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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