By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — A series of positive economic indicators for Coos County and Berlin were hailed by Mayor Paul Grenier and the city council on Monday night as a sign efforts to improve the local economy are working.
The council reviewed data showing Coos County has significantly reduced its poverty rate and no longer has the highest rate in the state. The unemployment rate in both the city and county is down dramatically, and employers are actively recruiting workers. N.H. Meals and Rooms Tax revenues for Coos County are also up — an indication of increased hospitality business.
Grenier said the statistics provide confirmation of what officials have sensed from anecdotal evidence — the economy is improving.
“Some of the things we are doing are starting to show,” he said.
The U.S. Census Bureau has just released its annual 2016 American Community Survey and the figures show Coos County had an estimated poverty rate of 11.7 percent, compared to a statewide average of 7.3 percent. But Belknap and Carroll Counties both have rates higher than Coos County. An analysis by the N.H. Fiscal Policy Institute said Coos and Strafford Counties “saw significant decreases in their poverty rates.
The statistics show that poverty is highest for children under 18 — in Coos County the poverty rate for children is 23.7 percent while the rate for those 65 and older is 4.8 percent.
Grenier acknowledged that while the county has made strides in reducing poverty there is still a distance to go.
“One poor person in the country is too many,” he said.
The American Community Survey shows Coos County still has the lowest median household income among the state’s 10 counties at an estimated $47,092. The next lowest is Belknap County at $56,295.
The August unemployment rate for Coos County was 3.1 percent and for the Berlin area it was 3.5 percent. Grenier noted the unemployment rate here reached double digits following the mill closings and the recession.
Councilor Peter Higbee, who serves on the Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority, said in a briefing earlier this month N.H. Employment Security Berlin manager Mark Belanger reported only 37 people are collecting unemployment compensation benefits in all of Coos County.
While there is still demand for good paying jobs, Belanger told BIDPA board members it is harder to fill low pay and part-time jobs without benefits. Some employers have been forced to increase wages to attract workers. N.H. Employment Security held a job fair in Berlin Monday with a wide range of businesses and companies looking for workers.
N.H. Meals and Rooms Tax revenues for Coos County show a steady increase. In 2010, Coos businesses reported gross revenues of $88 million, in 2015 the figure was $103 million, and last year it was $106 million. So far this year, revenues are running ahead of last year.
Grenier said the city’s focus on promoting motorized recreation, and specifically ATVs, has helped generate a recreational economy. He said he believes residential properties are selling better but said multi-family tenement buildings are still dragging down real estate efforts. He asked Councilor Lucie Remillard, a realtor, what she is seeing in the real estate market.
Remillard said ATV enthusiasts are buying houses in Berlin as second homes and investing in renovating them. She said they see houses as a better investment than buying a condo. Remillard said hikers are also looking at property in the valley. Sale prices, she said, for residential property are increasing.
“This is a good market,” she said.
Grenier said the task for the council will be to manage the growth that is occurring and keep the momentum going. Noting the municipal election is just weeks away, he urged voters to vote to continue the “slow, steady hand of leadership.”