Local economy remains strong
Despite Dartmouth's announcement last month that it is considering laying off employees, the unemployment rate for the Upper Valley remains a fraction of the nationwide rate and new businesses continue to open and thrive.
Grafton County -- in which both Hanover and Lebanon are located -- enjoyed an unemployment rate of only 1.8 percent in September. During the same period, the unemployment rate for all of New Hampshire was 4.3 percent and the national rate 5.7 percent.
Despite these low overall unemployment rates, though, at least some local charity organizations have seen sharp increases in the need for their services in the last year.
Clint Beam, the director of the Hanover Chamber of Commerce, expressed optimism about the job prospects of any employees who might be laid off by Dartmouth.
"Whatever impact the economic downturn has, the region will be quick to rebound," he said, due to the "vibrancy and stability" of the Upper Valley economy.
But Barbara Hensel, resource coordinator for The Haven homeless shelter in White River Junction, painted a darker picture of the Upper Valley's economy. She described a sharp rise in requests for services from The Haven.
The number of people using The Haven's free food shelf has risen 30 percent this year and the number of people requesting free bread has risen by 35 percent to 40 percent, she said.
Hensel noted that these numbers might not reveal the full extent of the Upper Valley's economic sufferings, since many people hesitate to take advantage of the resources offered by The Haven until absolutely necessary.
Beam said that because Dartmouth is currently planning to eliminate positions, rather than people, he thought many employees might be able to find other jobs within Dartmouth itself.
Low as the 1.8 percent unemployment rate currently may be compared to the rest of New Hampshire and the United States, Beam said that unemployment rates in the Hanover area are usually even lower.
Unemployment rates in the Hanover and Lebanon area typically hover around 1 to 1.2 percent and have even fallen below 1 percent, he said.
In fact, unemployment rates in Hanover are often so low that there are more jobs available than there are workers to fill them, Beam said.
He cited Dartmouth's wealth and established presence in the community as one reason why the Upper Valley has fared so well economically. The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has also created many jobs and pumped funds into the local economy.
While Beam noted "a fair amount of turnover" among businesses located in downtown Hanover, he said that when businesses downtown do close, there are "tenants lining up" to fill the spots.
He pointed to the recent opening of Mojo's, a Mexican restaurant located in what used to be part of the Dartmouth Co-op, and the Dirt Cowboy Caf's recent decision to extend its hours as examples of the economic vitality of downtown Hanover.
Beam noted, however, that more rooms at local hotels and motels are staying vacant than in recent past years, which might suggest a slight drop in tourism.
Both Beam and Hensel said the high cost of living in the Hanover area is a constant problem. Beam mentioned that finding affordable housing can be particularly difficult.
Ned Redpath, owner of the Hanover branch of the Coldwell Banker real estate agency, said in an interview last month that he knew of people who turned down jobs offered by Dartmouth because they could not find affordable houses in the area.
"Inflation is just crazy," he said.
Hensel also pointed to rises in the price of gas as an economic obstacle many families face, especially within a rural environment like the Upper Valley, which offers a less advanced public transportation system than larger metropolitan areas do.