Building on the Bottom Line

New Hampshire's demographics are changing



Illustration by Peter Noonan

What comes to mind when you think of New Hampshire?

Is it Manchester's Millyard? The Mount Washington Hotel? Lake Winnipesaukee? The beautiful downtown in Keene? And what values do you associate with the Granite State? Is it of freedom or nature or wholesome, frugal living?

Our neighbors in Massachusetts might see us as right-wing hicks. Those in the Midwest might recall our amazing fall season.

New U.S. Census data may shatter the image of how we see ourselves. New Hampshire is increasingly less Portsmouth, Plymouth and Peterborough and more Hollis and Hudson and Hampstead.

The average New Hampshire family is more highly educated than the rest of the nation. They are healthier. They are more likely to vote independent. They were born somewhere else. And they live in a suburban neighborhood on a cul-de-sac within minutes from the Massachusetts border where they spend a lot of time.

"Fifty three percent of the state lives in either Hillsborough or Rockingham Counties"

For them the whole New Hampshire-Massachusetts dynamic is charming.

According to new once-in-a-decade data:

*53 percent of the state lives in either Hillsborough or Rockingham Counties

*Hudson has more residents than Portsmouth or Laconia

*More people live in Derry than all of Coos County

For evidence that the political power has shifted south, look where presidential candidates spent their precious time during the recent presidential primary. About three of four events took place in southern New Hampshire. No candidate opened up an office north of Concord.

This impacts local politics too. Those who live north of Franklin are very vocal in their almost unanimous opposition to the Northern Pass project, which would develop 140 miles of transmission lines to a hydro-power plant in Canada. In New Hampton, for example, a resolution against the project passed 140 to 5.

But Northern Pass is rarely ever mentioned as an issue south of Franklin. The same could be said for the lack of discussion with a number of bills involving labor unions. Setting aside the pros and cons of some of these bills, the truth is a growing number of Granite Staters don't spend a lot of time thinking about the issues. This is not a big union state to begin with, especially in the bedroom communities on the state's southern border. Add to that a number of gun rights bills that just aren't as relevant to a suburban lifestyle.

And note that the boldest promise in Gov. John Lynch's final State of the State address earlier this year was to widen Interstate 93 from Salem to Manchester within four years.

The Census data only continues the trends that have existed for 40 years. The state is growing. Most of these newcomers are coming from Massachusetts and the Northeast in general. They are living in the triangle between Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth. They tend to be Republican or Independent. If they live south of Manchester they came to raise their families. If they moved north of Concord they came to retire.

Together they are changing what New Hampshire really means. Don't worry, they aren't touching the state's motto.

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