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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Sununu says it's N.H. vs. Conn. for Quebec company

February 18. 2018 12:50AM

New Hampshire may be too small to snag an internet commerce giant, but we might be nimble enough to convince an air conditioning manufacturer to leave the Great White North.

For its long-shot bid to snag Amazon's second North American headquarters, New Hampshire faced off against 238 regions and cities and was not among the 20 finalists vying for 50,000 jobs and a $5 billion investment. (Go, Boston!)

The Granite State faces a single competitor in a contest to lure a Quebec company to relocate its operations and 300 jobs here, Gov. Chris Sununu says.

"Right now it's between us and Connecticut," Sununu said during a commercial real estate forum Tuesday at the Millyard Museum in Manchester. "I think we're going to be successful in that one because, well, the competition is Connecticut. You've got like a catcher's mitt to take businesses coming out of Connecticut at this point."

General Electric's announcement in 2016 that it was moving its headquarters and 800 jobs from Fairfield, Conn., to Boston was largely blamed on Connecticut's high tax rate and unfavorable business climate. Time to play the New Hampshire advantage card.

Sununu did not reveal the name of the Quebec company during his talk to a group gathered by Collier's International, nor would he divulge it afterward. The governor said another Quebec company recently decided to move to the Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth. The Pease Development Authority would not confirm whether such a move is in the works.

"When you look at some of the 'buy America' provisions that they are talking about in Washington, (there's a) huge opportunity to bring manufacturers from Canada into the United States," said Sununu, who visited Quebec last year to meet with businesses. "Those companies that right now are selling their products here ... are going to get taxed out of their shoes frankly if they don't make a certain amount of the product in the U.S.

"Companies are looking to come down."

Sununu is betting they won't travel any farther south than New Hampshire.

"Where does a manufacturer from Quebec necessarily want to go? They don't necessarily want to go to downtown Boston. They want to go to northern New Hampshire," Sununu said.

"They want to go to the part of the state and the part of New England where people said manufacturing was consistently going away. So we've opened up a lot of opportunities in Littleton, Berlin, Lancaster."

Needed: higher ceilings

If that Quebec air conditioner company chooses the Granite State, it might be on the lookout for an amenity that is in short supply around here: warehouse and industrial space with extra-high ceilings.

"Twenty-four-foot clear used to be the norm. Now it's a 30-foot clear. We just don't have it," Colliers International Managing Partner Rob Rohrer said during the Millyard forum. "If we did we'd be able to lease that up in a heartbeat."

Modern warehouses use automation to maximize efficiency, and manufacturing increasingly relies on robotics, which both require high ceilings. Those uses also require strong data connections.

"When you think about robotics and some of the other technical machinery that is being used these days, it requires higher and higher height," Rohrer said. "We're also looking at a connectivity issue. You got robots, you got engineers, you've got a lot of connectivity. And the more the better that you can offer them."

Such clients also need lots of power.

"More of it, less expensive," Roher said. "That's all they ever want."

Sununu knows that all too well. The governor said he got an earful from some major employers after the state Site Evaluation Committee rejected the proposed Northern Pass transmission project a couple of weeks ago.

"A number of manufacturers called me the day after that Northern Pass decision and said, 'Governor, we just can't do this anymore. We were very hopeful that this state understood low energy rates drive everything for us.' I'm now talking them into staying here."

We bet political leaders in Quebec are trying to do the same thing.

Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or

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