A DREDful State

The ABCs of naming government agencies. By Jack Kenny

I’m the DED head,” Stu Arnett cheerfully acknowledges, though you might otherwise think he’s a rather intelligent man. For the past seven years he has been director of the Division of Economic Development for the state of New Hampshire, which puts him, sure enough, at the head of the DED. And New Hampshire, you may have noticed, has not been wanting for economic development. Whatever else our critics may say, New Hampshire ain’t Appalachia.

There are several offices within Arnett’s division. One of them is the Business Resource Center. It used to be called the Office of Business and Industrial Development, but that was before some of the DED people rose up and declared enough was enough, they had been buried too long under too many deadly acronyms. OBID, after all, sounded like “obit,” exactly the kind of place where an inquiring mind might go to learn about the DED. Some found the name dreadful, though they probably didn’t call it that. “Dread” is not a word to be used lightly at the Division of Economic Development, which is a part of the Department of Resources and Economic Development. And we in New Hampshire have grown accustomed to DRED.

Now DRED might seem an appropriate name for some government agencies, but it hardly seems fitting for the one that promotes New Hampshire as a state full of friendly, down-home people and caring communities and a great place to live, work and recreate. What’s to DRED about that? You’d think the state would give DRED to an agency that could better use it, like the one that runs our prisons, for example. We could call that the Department of Rehabilitation, Education and Detention. But no, we call it the Department of Corrections, or DOC, which sounds like a kindly, retired physician.

Surely there is nothing fearful about a department that is marketing New Hampshire to the world to promote its economic development, travel and tourism, lands and forests and its parks and recreational opportunities. It only sounds DREDful. “It’s an awful name for such a wonderful agency,” says DRED Commissioner George Bald. He won’t get any argument from Sean O’Kane, who headed the agency for the last two years.

“George is right,” says O’Kane. “You know the funny line —‘I’m from DRED and I’m here to help’ — just doesn’t resonate the way you’d like it to.”

“It’s a cringe moment,” says Arnett, describing that awkward feeling of being at a trade show or seminar in another state wearing a nametag that identifies his agency by its initials. But the Legislature gave DRED its moniker when it established the department 45 years ago and would not be inclined to change it now. Any such proposal would likely be “dead on arrival,” or DOA, which, coincidentally, are the same initials used for the state’s Division of Aeronautics. It’s an unfortunate label for an agency understandably proud of its record of safety.

Yes, earth and sky are filled with alphabet-soup agencies and projects, and even the underground has its share. When he was working on economic development for the city of Claremont, Arnett (the DED guy) was engaged in a project between the city and Windsor, Vt., to build a sewer line for the resort at Ascutney Mountain. Like any great enterprise, the project needed a name.

“There were some cruder ones that came to mind,” Arnett admits, but after due and careful consideration, officials dubbed the interstate, trans-river sewer line the Windsor-Ascutney Sewage Treatment Enterprise, thereby proving that haste is not the only thing that makes WASTE.

Arnett has seen his share of projects and places with strange-sounding names, but he insists there is no better place to work than with the DED from DRED.

“I don’t think there’s anything that comes close,” says the grateful DED head. “I think I’ve got them all beat.” NH