Counterpoint: The Positive Effects of Rail
It invites more people to stay, work, and play here
The Politics column in the July issue titled “Corporate Rail” attempted to cast an investment in commuter rail expansion from Boston to Nashua and Manchester as “subsidizing big business” simply because of the proximity of station locations to large businesses such as Dyn and BAE Systems. The author asks why the state should support businesses that are “doing just fine,” questions whether people from the Upper Valley or Lakes Region would ride the train, asks if it’s worth providing support for our regional airport or if it would make working in New Hampshire more attractive for young workers. As a 20-something small business owner with peers in Boston who long to live and work in the Granite State, I think I have a unique perspective missing from that column.
I specifically chose to locate my business, Café la Reine, in the heart of downtown Manchester because I saw a revitalization underway and I wanted to take part in shaping it. As companies like Dyn have grown, so has my business. When new tech spinoffs led by former Dyn employees incubate at Alpha Loft and then take flight, my business grows, I hire more people, pay more taxes and purchase more from my purveyors. More employees in a community means more people dining out, renting or owning homes and contributing to the economy, which benefits the entire state. So will a rail stop in downtown Manchester help Dyn? I sure hope so, because that will have beneficial ripple effects. This sequence will be repeated in communities throughout the rail corridor while aiding the entire state. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Does the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport’s location and its limited use by residents in the North Country detract from the more than $1 billion in economic output it generates for the entire state? Of course not. So why should this hold true for commuter rail? This parochial line of thinking is what is holding New Hampshire back and baffles customers I meet from Chicago, Denver and elsewhere who would consider a community 50 miles outside of a thriving city center as a suburb, not a different planet. Rail has the power to help strengthen our connections with Boston and harness the talent it offers.
Speaking of talent, each year thousands of graduates depart New Hampshire colleges and universities and participate in the rat race that consists of overpaying for an apartment in Allston or Brighton while working in downtown Boston for several years. After a few moves closer to the city, another round of frustration sets in when it becomes time to purchase a home. Skyrocketing real estate prices cause people to settle for a home far away from work but accessible via public transportation. Many of my friends are in this cycle as we speak, and they are envious of my ability to stay, work and play in New Hampshire. So to me, it’s not inconceivable that young professionals would want to live in Boston and work in New Hampshire (or vice versa) — it’s a reality.
With anemic economic growth, a well-documented lack of in-migration and the percentage of New Hampshire’s population at age 65 and older set to double over the next 20 years, policymakers need to make some serious choices. They can maintain the status quo and risk falling further behind, or they can follow the will of more than 74 percent of New Hampshire residents who support passenger rail expansion and the thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate development and reinvested workers’ earnings that it will deliver. Either way, large and small business owners are watching.