The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Building a workforce
Meet the new state economic development director


 Can you tell me a little about yourself, where you’re from and how you ended up in this kind of work?

I’m originally from Puerto Rico and I came to the U.S. in 1968 and I grew up in New York City. So between New York City and Boston, where I spent 25 years prior to coming to New Hampshire, I spent my adult working life in higher education. I worked for a variety of two- and four-year colleges, both private and public, at the same time getting my college education. … Prior to coming to New Hampshire, I worked about 10 years at a small, private technical college in Boston called Benjamin Franklin Institute and that’s where I really got grounded in developing curriculum around trying to tie it to the needs of business and industry and creating pathways and writing grants, fundraising. … And then I used that to come to New Hampshire, where I became the president of Great Bay Community College on the Seacoast in Portsmouth. Actually, the college at the time was located in Stratham, so it was my task to build a new campus in Portsmouth at the tradeport and move the college … which we accomplished in 2009. [That’s when] we really started to focus on business and industry, developing partnerships [and developing] curriculum to meet the needs of industry. … that allowed us to develop a deeper capacity of manufacturing programs across the state.
Now that you’re heading up the Division of Economic Development, I wonder, since your experience has largely been in the realm of workforce development, how heavily that plays a role in what strategies you come up with.
Given where we are with the economy and the workforce, this was a bit of a natural transition for me. The commissioner, Taylor Caswell, and the governor as well, were looking to step a little bit out of the box to bring somebody on board that had some significant experience working with educational institutions and focusing on workforce development. And that’s what I’ve been able to bring to the position. … One of the main tenets of [this division] is to work with the higher educational institutions in the state to get really focused on building the pipeline for the needs of industry. That is going to take some time, but we’ve already begun to have these conversations with the University System, the Community College System and the New Hampshire College and University Council. That’s something that wasn’t a focus before. … You can’t have economic development if you don’t have the workforce.
Is the emphasis on the educational pipeline in-state over attracting talent from out-of-state? Or is there some balancing act between the two you are trying to strike?
It’s a combination of all different kinds of things, because we know demographically we have a challenge going forward with the aging of the population and people aging out of work and so forth. So we have to [have a] multi-pronged strategy of working with the K-12, working with the university system to retain more students in the state but also working [on] strategies that will make us more attractive to out-of-staters who may want to locate in the state. … And on the other end of the spectrum, we’re also very interested in how do we retain older workers for longer periods of time in the workforce. If you think about it, if people retire at 65, they still have 20 or 30 years in front of them. … I think the idea that people should be retiring at 65 or 66 or whatever the age is, that’s going to have to change as people live longer and as people remain healthier for longer periods of time. … Maybe less hours, but if we can keep them in the workforce at half time or 30 hours or whatever they’re comfortable with, then they can continue to contribute and also transfer some of the knowledge and skills they have to the younger population. 
— Ryan Lessard 

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