SRPC Awards Strafford Economic Development Corporation of New Hampshire with ‘Annual Excellence Award’

DennisM_CynthiaC_Award32015 Excellence Award

Strafford Regional Planning Commission Annual Meeting

May 28, 2015

Many times it is the quiet entity who accomplishes the most. It is your partner who shows up for the meetings, says no problem when asked to help, who shares resources and knowledge, makes the right introductions, and, several decades later you look up and they have a line of accomplishments out the door and around the block. The world is a better place.

Today, the 28th of May 2015, Strafford Regional Planning Commission, in celebration of our designation as an Economic Development District, is giving our annual excellence award to one such partner. Today, we honor our long term associate and collaborator – Strafford Economic Development Corporation of New Hampshire – with the 2015 Excellence in Financial Assistance award. Mr. Dennis McCann, Executive Director, is here to accept the Award for SEDC.

The State departments of Planning, Resources and Economic Development and the Business Finance Authority had completed a study in the mid 1990’s to better understand why large employers were not locating in New Hampshire – why the state was seen as a challenging place to locate their business. In general, the study found that there was dissatisfaction with sales and marketing follow-up and availability of financing tools. From this derived the strategy of developing regional economic development corporations, which would have access to revolving loan funds for business loans.

The Office of State Planning saw the use of revolving loan funds through regional development corporations as a means to recycle funds through a continuous grant and sub grant process. This strategy still remains important in the world of New Hampshire loan financing.

In 1996 the Somersworth Industrial Development Authority (SIDA), a quasi- governmental branch of the City, used their tax exempt status to receive a Community Development Block Grant from the Office of State Planning. SIDA saw the opportunity to use these seed funds, and was chartered in March 1997 as the Strafford County Economic Development Authority.  In the first year of its operation, the SIDA sold their $8,100 portfolio for one dollar to what is now SEDC.

In October 1997 SEDC hired their first executive director, Dennis McCann, and set up office in Somersworth. Dennis notes that for the first board meeting, he brought in lawn chairs for the board members.  With a few local clients in Somersworth, such as a Pella Windows franchise, and building contacts by word of mouth, the client list began to grow. Of SEDC’s first ten clients, eighteen years later, seven clients are still with them. One of these clients is Middleton Building Supply – the best sawmill in the state according to SEDC.

When asked what distinguishes SEDC from other regional economic development corporations, Dennis believes it is their project based focus, eschewing a programmatic approach. SEDC maintains its pragmatic services by keeping their head down and catching federal funds that are recycled repetitively. The staff of three work hard to finance projects by finding a solution that fits the needs of the business. They have intensely loyal customers, but also realize they cannot meet all their needs. SEDC looks for funding, business advice, and matchups with the right banks and professionals.

Eighteen years later – SEDC’s clients have created 4150 jobs and have made direct loans or loans from other sources totaling 32 million dollars which has leveraged another 110 million dollars.

Clients fall in two categories generally – in dire straits (job retention mode /saving existing jobs) or a big opportunity has arrived and additional assistance is needed. Dennis describes this later group as experiencing fast growth syndrome wherein they have found a successful niche, are filling capacity as rapidly as they can, and there are cash flow constraints. An example would be Turbocam who completed five projects with SEDC. By partnering with a bank and SEDC, each step Turbocam took was bigger than if it had just been with a single financial partner.

SEDC’s primary partners are the banks and investors operating in the area, NH Business Finance Authority, NH Community Development Finance Authority, NH Community Loan Fund, US Small Business Administration, Small Business Development Center, and US Department of Agriculture.

SEDC works to balance their portfolio within sectors.  Currently this is their busiest time ever and the question becomes: is this another unexplainable, periodic short term boom, or is this sign of things to come?  Financial assistance services have become more competitive; secondary market lenders are working hard, and wealth is shifting to individuals.

What does the future hold?  For SEDC: a focus on job creation and retention through provision of below market rate loans to clients.  For the Strafford region in SEDC’s perspective: the retention of affordable housing in the Strafford region provides real value for employers and employees. With fewer mid-sized locally controlled businesses than prior times, it feels less certain than ever. This trend is reflective of the growing professional class of service providers in the Strafford region.  A hope would be to have manufacturing businesses that are tied to the region – ones who are going to stick around during bad times.  Another hope is to have a little micro economic bubble to create further demand. And finally, better care of and support for the infrastructure that is a key foundation to the state’s and region’s economic success since the end of WWII.

SEDC will continue its pursuit of excellence by being market oriented, knowing the needs of its customers and clients, staying with a financial assistance focus, being results based and optimistic. There is a way to be frugal and also reasonable. This requires an element of trust, unity of purpose and an understanding of our shared mission.  And I think with this last statement, it is clear why SEDC is our 2015 winner of the Excellence Award.  Our warmest congratulations and best wishes for success to the agency – its Board, clients, and staff. Together you have done so much for individual businesses and the Strafford region.

 

Cynthia Copeland, AICP

Executive Director

Strafford Regional Planning Commission