By John Toole
---- — Londonderry is a place of work.
Among 12 towns in the Southern New Hampshire region, it has the lowest unemployment rate — 5.3 percent in preliminary figures reported by the state Department of Employment Security for the month of June.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said David Preece, Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission executive director. “When you add the potential Pettengill Road would bring, as well as Woodmont Commons, the town would be one of the biggest job generators in the state.”
Neighboring Derry and Windham aren’t far behind, each at 5.6 percent.
“I’m not surprised at all and I’m glad we’re number one in our area,” said William Parnell, president of the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.
Parnell was equally pleased with the showing of Derry, where he lives.
“That speaks well for our area,” he said.
But two communities on the commercially rich border with Massachusetts are struggling.
Plaistow has the highest unemployment rate in the region at 7.6 percent.
Salem, a shopping mecca with its mall, plazas and restaurants, stands at 7.4 percent.
None of the towns beat the state’s 5.1 percent unemployment rate. But all bested the nation’s 7.8 percent.
Seven of the communities are 6 percent or worse: Hampstead, 6.0; Newton, 6.1; Atkinson and Kingston, 6.3; Danville, 6.6; Pelham and Sandown, 6.8.
Preece sums up Londonderry’s advantage in three words, or rather one: “Location, location, location.”
The town is situated on Interstate 93, hosts Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, is close to the Everett Turnpike, next door to the state’s largest city of Manchester and in the state’s rail corridor.
Then couple all that with quality services — good schools, public services and utilities, he said.
“Londonderry has a lot going for it,” Parnell said.
Paul Donehue, chairman of the Londonderry Housing and Redevelopment Authority, shares that view.
“This is an ideal place for a lot of people to settle,” he said.
The town also is fortunate for a large geographic area that Donehue said allows development to take place in a way people may not notice.
“That’s a big plus,” he said.
Londonderry is likely to see more jobs, and tax revenue, in the future, he said.
“I’m optimistic,” Donehue said.
Derry is seeing business development, too.
“I think, in general terms, we’ve seen an uptick in commercial development the last couple of years,” Derry planning director George Sioras said.
Housing development also is increasing in Derry.
“That puts people to work,” he said.
Derry benefits from location.
“We are a commuter town,” Sioras said.
A 2010 survey found 70 percent of people commuting out of Derry for work, about half of them to Massachusetts and most of the rest to the nearby cities of Nashua and Manchester.
Derry strives to be business friendly, too, helping companies navigate the permitting process.
“That encourages small business and we’ve seen more of them open in the last year or so,” Sioras said.
It makes a difference.
“Those two, three, four or five people are now employed,” he said.
Parnell acknowledged he, too, is optimistic for future employment in both Derry and Londonderry.
“We need to continue the work on I-93 and for Exit 4A,” he said. “What I’m hearing is that is going to happen eventually.”
As those highway projects are completed, that will create more economic opportunity for the towns, he said.
“I can see the whole area getting developed,” he said.
The proposed Exit 4A could boost downtown Derry by alleviating traffic congestion, Parnell said.
Windham Economic Development Committee member Bruce Breton said the town benefits from residents working in Massachusetts.
“Windham is not an employment base. They choose to live here, not work here,” Breton said. “Something like the high 90 percent work out of town.”
Still, Breton praises the town’s efforts through its Community Development staff to encourage small business development.
“Over the last three years, that has become more vibrant,” Breton said.
Salem seemingly has many of the advantages Londonderry enjoys, but still struggles with employment.
Preece and town planning director Ross Moldoff say they don’t know why unemployment is higher there.
“Salem’s unemployment rate has always been higher than the New Hampshire rate,” Moldoff said.
Plaistow human resources coordinator Lori Sadewicz, who oversees welfare, said she’s unsure why the town has a high rate.
“They don’t give me an explanation,” Sadewicz said.
Annette Nielsen, an economist with the state’s Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, said when analyzing unemployment in those communities it’s more fair to judge them by the greater Boston area than the rest of New Hampshire.
“Part of it is the dynamic of the labor market,” Nielsen said.
“They are both on the border,” she said. “They are more prone to be affected by the health of the Massachusetts labor market.”
The job opportunities and high wages in Massachusetts can negatively affect places like Plaistow and Salem, she said.
“This attracts more people, but it is very competitive,” Nielsen said.
A job fair two weeks ago in Salem attracted 235 people, according to Pam Szacik, the state’s director of employment services.
Some scheduled interviews, but it will be several weeks before the state knows how many led to jobs, she said.
Rockingham County unemployment was 5.5 percent, second highest among Granite State counties to the 5.8 percent in Coos. Sullivan County was the lowest at 4.3 percent.
New Hampshire’s unemployment was second best in New England to the 4.8 percent of Vermont and seventh in the nation. Massachusetts was at 7.4 percent, with Rhode Island the highest at 8.5 percent.