After spending over 40 years living in Massachusetts, I now live near Manchester, NH. In recent times, a thought has occurred to me, even before I read this article that I saw recently on LinkedIn: could this become at least a mini-tech hub? Could it grow into something bigger than it is?
There are good reasons to ask these questions and even think the answer to both may be “yes.” Also, whether or not that will happen is an entirely different question to consider.
It’s easy to think immediately that the answer may be “no.” A technical recruiter I spoke with a while back mentioned all the activity in Boston and Cambridge, and that is where his work is focused. He mentioned that New Hampshire is a nice place to live, but not much tech is up there. In a relative sense, he is right, and I know he meant no harm whatsoever; he was conveying reality in a relative sense.
I have long worked alongside people, especially engineers, who live in New Hampshire but work in Massachusetts, as I have recently done. Included are a couple who even made the daily trek down to a company near Rhode Island that I worked for – not the kind of commute I would ever want. But what works for one person may not for others. I recently had an hour commute to my job, and while I was looking to get something closer to home (and still am), I found a way to make it work for me, which was listening to great podcasts for much of my drive.
Getting back to the original point: working across state lines is not uncommon for anyone who works anywhere near a state border. In this case, though, it’s a little different than many others: New Hampshire has no personal income tax (no sales tax, too, but that’s beside the point here). I suspect those I know who have worked in Massachusetts but live in New Hampshire wouldn’t mind being able to have the same job in New Hampshire and not have to pay the Massachusetts income tax; I certainly would like that.
Besides that, real estate is cheaper in New Hampshire. Last year, when we were hunting for a new house, we looked in north suburban Boston as well as New Hampshire up to around Manchester. What we found is a big difference: a townhouse like the one we bought would almost certainly be well out of our price range in north suburban Boston, even one that’s run-down and needs a lot of work. Commercial real estate is probably a relative mirror image of that.
A big part of the attraction to Boston for businesses is often said to be the talent because of universities. Boston is quite a college town, to be sure – I went to high school and college in the city, so I know first-hand – and that is an asset. But at some point, that advantage goes away a bit, because college grads don’t all stay right in the city once they have their degree even if they stay in the metro area. Being near colleges is great for student talent in the form of co-ops and/or interns, but to me that advantage diminishes unless a company is doing a lot of partnerships with colleges and universities.
Route 128 has been a haven for tech for a long time, especially north and a little west of Boston on that road (south, not so much). Interstate 495 is home, or close to it, for a number of great companies as well, such as Akamai, Cadence Design Systems, Dell (previously EMC), IBM, Juniper Networks, Kronos, Mercury Systems, Nvidia, Philips, Raytheon (two offices near the junction with I-93), Red Hat, Sonus Networks, Thermo Fisher Scientific has two offices at different ends of the road, and many others that are not immediately coming to mind. I-495 is about 25-30 miles from Boston depending on what part of the road you are on, and has good connecting highways in I-93 and the Mass. Pike.
If you’re on the upper end of I-495, you’re less than ten miles from New Hampshire at most points.
Recently, I had a conversation with a tech CEO I know who lives well north of Boston. When I told him where I now call home and that I am looking to find something relatively close to home, he said without hesitation that I should be able to find something close to the Manchester area, and rattled off a few companies that he knows there – in downtown Manchester, Dyn (now part of Oracle) and Autodesk stand out right off the bat, especially where you can see them driving along Interstate 293. Over time, I have found more companies that might not be household names, but are pretty good ones in the area. Nashua, which is a relatively short trip away, has BAE Systems (which also has offices with engineering in nearby Hudson and Merrimack) and several others in what appears to be an underrated technology area.
During the last recession, I-495 was hit hard with companies closing offices or closing up shop entirely. Vacancy rates took a big jump. In much of Boston, vacancy rates are low, which means real estate costs are through the roof, and the Boston Business Journal has chronicled how that’s not going to change easily due to immense construction costs, even with immense competition for that. It took a while, but I-495 appears to have recovered as options in or closer to Boston dwindle. Could New Hampshire be the next place tech companies go to?
With all of the factors I note here, there is little reason to believe it can’t become a primary option, and by extension, develop into at least a mini-tech hub. It will never be what Boston is – a strong competitor to Silicon Valley – but it can be a nice secondary tech area all its own. It doesn’t have to be Silicon Valley, or Boston, or the D.C. area, or any other big tech hub.