Rochester is one of the fastest growing cities in the Seacoast of New Hampshire, attracting a steady stream of enterprises eager to take advantage of the business-friendly environment. Already a regional commercial center for the state’s southern lakes region, recent growth builds on the city’s long established strengths…
Historically a manufacturing community, the city of 33,000 continues to support a strong manufacturing sector. “Like many New England communities, Rochester has a long history behind it,” says Economic Development Manager, Karen G. Pollard. “Ours is all in textiles. And over time that has really given a depth of knowledge in manufacturing.” Today, that rich experience is providing the foundation for advanced manufacturing, ensuring that the community maintains its economic success in the 21st century. “We continue to have strength in textiles, but also in composite materials. Our history has really helped us transition into modern manufacturing.”
The city actively works to bring in new manufacturers – as well as other types of businesses – by creating a positive business climate. “Rochester is a great place to own a business because of the low tax structure. We don’t have any income tax or sales tax and we have low corporate taxes; it is a great combination. We have many of the key factors that companies look for in choosing a location including a talented workforce with both the educational background and also the history of centuries of hands-on manufacturing work. That is rare to find these days in the United States.”
The community recognizes that investing in business today will pay off tomorrow. “The city has invested in doing tax increment financing districts,” Ms. Pollard explains. Two of these districts are industrial, while the third is for commercial and hospitality development. “It allows the city to be a financial partner in the development process. For example, in the industrial park the city built out all the infrastructure required for a 400,000 square foot aerospace company… We are putting in a frontage road and doing some water and sewer infrastructure work on behalf of those developments so that they can compete in the marketplace and be successful in the long term. It has really made the city very attractive to come to and invest in. The city has really been able to accelerate its rate of growth individually because of our progressiveness in putting some of these things together that are beneficial to business, even when we have to bear some of the cost for that ourselves.”
The community also invests in top-notch educational opportunities to ensure that Rochester continues to boast a strong base of skilled workers. The award winning Advanced Technology & Academic Center (ATAC) focuses on technical, composites manufacturing, and academic courses to prepare people for today’s workplace. “We are very excited about having the ATAC located in Rochester,” Ms. Pollard remarks. “If you want to get a great job with a high rate of pay in the southern New Hampshire area, chances are you are going to want to do something with a manufacturing company. And this is the state of the art location to get training.”
An extension of Great Bay Community College, ATAC boasts “all the equipment that you would want your employees to be trained on if you are in machining or any kind of textile manufacturing.” The 30,000 square foot facility has room for 100 students at a time and can be adapted to accommodate customized training.
Students can earn a certificate in manufacturing, a two-year degree in manufacturing, or a unique four-year degree. “They are partnering with the University of New Hampshire system to actually have a four year manufacturing design degree, which is the only one of its kind in New England,” Ms. Pollard reports. Companies from throughout the northeast are eagerly taking part in the program. “There is no system like this anywhere in the northeast that we can find – and certainly none as efficient and as effective at training people.”
Rochester’s students also have access to educational opportunities at Richard W. Creteau Regional Technology Center. Attached to Spaulding High School, the technology center offers 14 Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs for Juniors and Seniors, as well as a variety of exploratory courses for Freshmen and Sophomores. High school students get hands-on, real world experience as well as the option to receive college credit through the Running Start program. “There are so many great stories where a student can follow their interest [in] high tech manufacturing situations right into a great career.”
Community leaders work to ensure that local educational programs match employers’ current and future needs. “We do try and make direct connections between the employers in the area and the schools. We are actually working on a networking session right now with the middle school so that kids and their parents understand what the opportunities are ten years in the future, 15 years in the future, 20 years in the future. We are attempting to prepare future generations to have those good jobs.”
Several new developments are underway to meet the housing needs of Rochester’s ongoing growth. An apartment complex and an executive townhome development are both under construction, as is a single-family development that will eventually be the site of 100 new houses. Rochester’s sixth shopping center is also under development. Located next to the city’s Super Wal-Mart, the new shopping center will include a movie theatre, ten restaurants, Market Basket, Hobby Lobby, Marshalls and Petco. “So if you can’t find it there it probably doesn’t exist.” One unique aspect of the shopping center is that it will have a public park for a farmer’s market, musical events, and other community activities. “They are creating a public venue in a shopping center for us. We are very excited about that.”
Locals also have access to plenty of shopping and amenities in Rochester’s downtown. “We do have a vibrant downtown center,” says Ms. Pollard. “We are a main street community. We have a main street manager who manages all the downtown events, of which there are many.” The most recent downtown event was National Comic Book Day, which took place in May. Hosted by a local comic book store, the major event brought an estimated 8,000 people to the city, with many dressed up as their favorite comic book character. “It is a huge event. People come from all over New England and it gets bigger every year.
Sports are also big in Rochester, and the city boasts a nonprofit sports complex offering a wide range of sports opportunities, from football, tennis, and softball to soccer and cheerleading. “These sports programs are some of the most competitive in the state,” Ms. Pollard shares. Rochester has won the state hockey championships multiple times as well as the bowling state championships.
City leaders are looking ahead to ensure that Rochester maintains its high quality of life and its business opportunities. “There are two focus areas at the moment that we are working on. One is to continue to attract research and development investment.” This investment will benefit Rochester’s current businesses and help to attract more companies operating within the R&D space. “Because of the university systems around us, we feel we have a very strong position to be able to attract [R&D companies]. The reason we want that is because it creates additional jobs, but it also creates the opportunity to grow those new ideas into new products and manufacturing lines.”
The second focus is on bringing company headquarters to Rochester. The city has already enjoyed several successes in this area. Laars Heating Systems was headquartered in California before choosing Rochester as its new base of operations. “We assisted them in relocating here to New Hampshire,” Ms. Pollard recalls. Albany International maintained a headquarters in Albany and manufacturing operations in Massachusetts before relocating the home office and research & development activity to Rochester. “They have their full component of decision making and investment right here in the city. That is more effective for them.”
As Rochester continues to build on a long history of manufacturing success, the city is well placed to attract even more businesses in the future. With more than 200 years of industry to its name, the New Hampshire community has the know-how and the dedication to keep growing as it adapts to meet 21st century expectations.