Economic development and higher education funding are intertwined

A top priority of elected officials should be how budget decisions in Concord affect economic development.

Respected demographic analyst Peter Francese of Exeter, NH wrote in the Foster’s Daily Democrat that we have a “stagnant or declining workforce combined with a very fast growing elderly population,” and NH should “increase the skills and earning power of our state’s young adults,” which will spur economic growth “through rising personal income and household wealth.”

Francese makes the case that higher educational achievement means higher incomes and that three-quarters of NH community college graduates find full-time employment in the state. While Francese focuses on the benefits of supporting our community college system, he also reports that average debt of three-quarters of our four year graduates was $32,000, the highest in the nation. “As a society we should be very troubled by that because those young graduates will face big mortgage payments, but with no house to show for it and fewer prospects for buying one,” according to Francese.

National statistics show that NH is at the bottom of all 50 states in its support of public higher education, and Francese says, “perhaps we ought to spend more time thinking about the consequences of spending so little on helping our young people get the skills they need.”

From my experience in NH as a business leader, small business owner and an elected official, I’ve heard from both small and large high-tech companies that finding and keeping highly trained NH young people is a bigger impediment to growing a business than the current corporate tax rates.

There are unforeseen and potentially damaging consequences to changing the tax codes, and could possibly accelerate the rate at which NH young people leave our state to find affordable education, housing and livable wages.

Economic experts and politicians need to take a little more time to fully vet the consequences of changing the tax rates on corporations. Lowering corporate taxes could stimulate an economic uptick or it could “blow a hole” in the revenue stream that makes up one of the largest sources of NH revenue.

Prioritizing higher education funding is an investment in NH’s people and economic future, and during budget negotiations, we should encourage our elected officials to do what is in the economic best interest of all of us.