By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Business, education and community leaders told Gov. Maggie Hassan yesterday that more needs to be done to keep young, skilled members of New Hampshire’s work force from leaving the state.
The governor listened for nearly two hours as the 19-member group expressed concerns about the rising cost of doing business, training young workers and maintaining “The New Hampshire Advantage.”
Hassan and the state Department of Resources and Economic Development hosted the business roundtable at Salem High School. It was just one of many roundtable discussions of advanced manufacturing and high-technology Hassan expects to hold around the state.
In her State of the State address last week, Hassan emphasized the importance of creating jobs and having a highly trained work force. She announced the formation of a task force dedicated to improving the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
The governor continued to the stress the need for a skilled work force yesterday and spoke of the talent and dedication of New Hampshire’s young workers.
“They are remarkable,” Hassan said. “The people of this state will learn and when they will commit to you, they will commit.”
But one of the major frustrations voiced by business executives was seeing workers leave the state for more pay and opportunities in the Boston area and elsewhere.
College students who grew up in New Hampshire are leaving after graduation, they said.
“We are losing our next generation of children outside the state,” said Dean Kacos, chief operating officer of Mosaic Technology Corp. in Salem. “We have to figure out how to bring them back.”
Kacos, chairman of the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce, was joined by Chamber executive director Donna Morris. She told Hassan that commercial real estate agents often ask her about the Granite State’s ability to compete.
“Is the New Hampshire advantage still there?” Morris said she is asked. “Is it all smoke and mirrors?”
Morris said business owners also are concerned about providing health insurance to employees.
“I think everyone is concerned,” she said. “I think people are finding it confusing and a challenge.”
Salem High School principal Tracy Collyer and Christopher Dodge, head of the school’s Career and Technical Education Center, said the goal is to educate students so they can become valuable members of the work force.
“Reach out and tell us what your needs are,” Dodge said. “We want to be meeting the needs of the business community.”
David Metzemaekers of Scott Electronics in Salem said manufacturing has became highly advanced in recent years and requires specially trained workers to get the job done.
It’s no longer “the dirty job” it was once, business executives said.
“It’s important to us to educate the kids in high school — it’s so different now,” Metzemaekers said. “You must be motivated and that’s what we want these kids to be.”
Local community leaders who attended the forum included Salem Town Manager Keith Hickey and Assistant Town Manager Leon Goodwin.
Hickey said the town, like many businesses, has had trouble finding the employees it needs while trying to keep property taxes down.
“We’ve had some challenges trying to attract the right people as well,” he said.
Hickey said a key to revitalizing the state and local economies is casino gambling.
“We think Rockingham Park is the prime location in New Hampshire to have that facility,” he said. “We hope the governor will continue to support one casino in Southern New Hampshire. ... It’s one of the few untapped revenue sources our state can look at.”