Show on pause

Andrew Pinard discusses the future of Hatbox Theatre

The transformation of Steeplegate Mall in Concord into a mixed-use development necessitates the relocation of several tenants, one of which is the Hatbox Theatre. Founded in 2016 by Andrew Pinard, Hatbox Theatre has been an active entity in the local arts community. The absence of a long-term lease now leads to the theater’s imminent closure, disrupting a season that was set to include 15 diverse productions. Pinard talked about the impact of this development on the theater, its future plans and the broader implications for the arts community in Concord. See hatboxnh.com for updates.

What exactly transpired with the closure of Hatbox Theatre?

The closure was abrupt. We knew there was a possibility of this happening when the previous owners evicted almost everyone without long-term leases nearly two years ago, but the actual timing was unexpected. The city has been pushing to get rid of the mall and replace it with housing, and they finally found a developer who bought the mall. This new developer plans to demolish the buildings and construct 625 market-rate apartments, along with a Costco and Whole Foods. Communication with the new owners was scarce, and we struggled to get information. We were assured at one point that we would have until May or June of 2024, but suddenly, in November, just before Thanksgiving, we were informed that we had to be out by the end of January. It was quite a shock.

What has been the community’s response?

There’s a lot of people who are very sad and very disappointed that we might close permanently if we can’t find another space to work in. Our audiences and the artists who have performed here are really supportive and enthusiastic about us finding a new space, and we’re grateful for them. I’ve had recommendations from dozens of people suggesting various spaces. The community’s reaction shows their deep investment in Hatbox and their concern for the future of local arts in our area. Unfortunately I haven’t been too optimistic about the elected, civic and business leaders in Concord. They acknowledge our work but haven’t fought very hard to keep us in the community. They never really made us feel like we were something special.

What immediate steps are you taking to manage this transition for Hatbox Theatre?

We’ve been evaluating a number of spaces for short-term and long-term use. We’re looking at Manchester, Epsom, Nashua, Bedford. We’ve looked at about 28 different locations so far and that includes both shared spaces and exclusive spaces. We’re looking at mid-March at the very earliest to launch programming in other nomadic locations. Our business model has always been that ticket sales cover the overhead of the space while allowing us to give 55 percent of the revenue to the production companies that are in the space. We are transitioning the organization to a not-for-profit to potentially expand our revenue beyond ticket sales, which could conceivably mean that we can purchase a location so that we’re not at the mercy of somebody kicking us out. That would also mean we could begin fundraising and things of that nature so that we can afford places like that.

How do you think this will affect Concord’s art scene?

It’s going to be a big loss for Concord, for the local artists and for the audience who regularly attend our shows. We’re in our ninth year now, and we’ve had over 36,000 people through our space since we opened in April 2016. We’ve hosted numerous world premieres and given a platform to local artists. Our venue was a place where smaller production companies and local artists could showcase their work. Many local artists got their start here, and without Hatbox there’s a fear that emerging talents might not find similar opportunities. The local arts scene will lose a unique venue that provided a space for experimental and avant-garde productions. Its closure could mean a more homogenized arts scene in the city. It’s not just about losing a physical space. It’s about losing a community hub for artists and audiences alike.

What are you looking for in a community to relocate to?

We want a community that really either wants us or needs us and really deeply wants to be involved. Ideally we’d find a community that has a space like a mill building or a fire station that they’re looking to repurpose to reinvest in their community. And we’re looking for a community that will support the community that has supported us.

In the kitchen with Cara Karpinski

When Cara Karpinski moved to New Hampshire in 2020, she discovered that her new job was no longer being offered due to the pandemic. Needing to find a new way to provide for her family, she realized her true passion was for dogs. Being a dog-mom of four, she decided to create Barkalicious, a gourmet preservative-free dog treat business made with eggs from her own chickens, with the belief that all dogs should to be “treat”ed with love.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

My must-have kitchen item is my KitchenAid mixer. I use it every day to combine my ingredients for the dog treats. I think it may be time to upgrade to a commercial version [of a] KitchenAid.

What is your favorite local eatery?

Currently, my favorite place for a romantic dinner is Buckley’s Great Steaks in Merrimack. For a more casual meal I enjoy the Coach Stop in Londonderry as well as Backyard Brewery on the Manchester/Londonderry line.

Name a celebrity you would like to see purchasing your dog treats.

It is hard to pick just one celebrity I would like to see purchase my dog treats, but the ones that come to mind are from HGTV. Tarek and Heather El Moussa from Flip or Flop, or Jonathan Knight from Farmhouse Fixer. I would say Taylor Swift, but I think she just has cats.

What is the most popular item on your menu?

Our most popular menu item is our bacon cheeseburger sticks. They are a little bit crunchier than our soft treats, but it has bacon on it, so how can it not be good!

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

The biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now is maybe pho. I had it for the first time a few weeks ago and it was fantastic. I am not really a hip [or] trendy foodie, but I do love all kinds of food.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

My favorite thing to cook at home is anything from scratch. I enjoy watching my family eat the meals I have prepared. It gives me great satisfaction when they love my hard work in the kitchen. The best meals I have made recently: beef stroganoff, chicken noodle soup and brisket.

Brisket
From the kitchen of Cara Karpinski

4-pound (or so) brisket
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, cut
1 onion, chopped
3 or 4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 or 3 boxes pre-made beef stock or broth
salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika

Season both sides of meat with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Heat canola oil in a pan and sear both sides of meat for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the pan.
Add onions, mushrooms and garlic to pan and lower heat. Cook until onions are translucent.
Add ½ cup water to scrape any solids in the pan. Return the brisket to the pan.
Cover meat with beef broth and simmer. Cook until tender (at least 6 hours).
Remove brisket and let cool.
Slice against grain. (I use a meat slicer to get very thin slices of meat.) You can also cut by hand.
Let the liquid in the pan cool to about room temperature as well as the brisket. Once cooled, add the meat back into the pan with the liquid and put in the refrigerator overnight.
About 3 hours before you want to have dinner, put the pot with the liquid and brisket back onto the stove and slowly warm. This meal goes very well with homemade mashed potatoes and carrots

Featured photo: Katie Pope of Confections by Kate. Courtesy photo.

On The Job – Nora Rwatangabo

Braider/loctician

Nora Rwatangabo is a braider/loctician and owner of Nora’s Locs Haven in Nashua.

Explain your job and what it entails.

A day in the life of a braider/loctician is a dynamic blend of creativity, client care and personal connections. From morning preparations to evening clean-up, the day revolves around managing diverse client appointments, offering services ranging from braiding and wig installations to dreadlocks maintenance and specialized kids’ styles. Each session with a client is akin to spending time with a best friend — filled with laughter, conversation, catching up and bonding. The unique aspect of this profession lies in the diverse experiences with each client, as every individual is different. These personal connections not only contribute to client satisfaction but also create a vibrant and enjoyable work atmosphere.

What led you to this career field and your current job?

Starting at the young age of 9, my skills were nurtured by a salon tenant back home, sparking a hobby that has seamlessly intertwined with my career. Despite considering it more as a hobby than a job, I’ve been braiding hair alongside my human services profession. The unique blend of my professional expertise in human services and my creative flair for braiding has not only allowed me to work with diverse hair types but has also empowered me to train and uplift others. I’ve extended my skills to financially challenged individuals, providing them with the means to earn a living as braiders and locticians back in Africa.

What do you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?

I wish I knew more about the business side of things. Balancing my passion for braiding with practical aspects like marketing and finances would have been helpful. Learning about industry trends early on and realizing the potential of my skills for training and empowerment would have been great.

What is the most challenging thing about your work, and how do you deal with it?

The toughest part of my work is sometimes managing a lot of things at once. To deal with it, I make sure to stay organized and prioritize tasks. Taking breaks when needed helps me recharge, and I ask for help from my team when things get overwhelming. Keeping a positive mindset and focusing on one thing at a time makes it easier to handle challenges.

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

That my job is more than braiding hair. It’s about making a connection and helping people feel happy. I also have some rules, like if someone is rude or doesn’t appreciate the service, I might choose not to work with them. I believe in creating a positive and respectful environment for everyone.

What was the first job you ever had?

Administrative assistant in a nonprofit organization working with individuals with special needs and brain injury.

What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever received?

Always do what you love.

Five favorites
Favorite book: The 5 AM Club
Favorite movie: The Wolf of Wall Street
Favorite music: ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ by Brett Young — my wedding song
Favorite food: Matooke and groundnuts with avocado and green vegetables
Favorite thing about NH: People are friendly.

Featured photo: Nora Rwatangabo. Courtesy photo.

In the kitchen with Chelsea Annett

A self-taught baker and a caretaker by nature, Chelsea Annett has a love for baking and cooking that sprouted when she was a young adult conversing with farmers and learning how to use seasonal ingredients. She was a special education teacher for 14 years before establishing Table, through which she provides baked goods and locally sourced, seasonally inspired food at farmers markets and now at her new location in Concord (55 N. Main St., Suite B), open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

My must-have kitchen item is a bench scraper. It has so many functions: cutting butter into dough, slicing and lifting dough and scraping the counter to clean up.

What would you have for your last meal?

I have way too many favorites to choose a last meal but probably freshly picked strawberries that are still warm from the sun or a perfectly ripened tomato. I feel like you can actually taste the sunshine.

What is your favorite local eatery?

My favorite local eatery right now is probably Sour Joe’s pizza. Greg, the owner, is another person with a passion working so hard to pursue his dream. And I love that he uses a sourdough crust. It’s unlike any other pizza around here.

Name a celebrity you would like to see eating in your restaurant?

I would love to see Erin French from The Lost Kitchen enjoying something I made. She has exquisite taste and is involved in her community of food growers and makers.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

I always get asked [about] my favorite thing that I make. Right now I offer a galette on Saturdays that is pretty outstanding. It’s flaky dough that is folded around cheddar cheese and thinly sliced sweet potato and then we crack an egg over the top and bake it until it’s just set and top with a sprinkle of sea salt. The original favorite which is still at the top of the list is the brown butter chocolate chip cookie that is made with sourdough. It’s incredible.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

I don’t really know what the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now is. I tend to steer away from trends. I am interested in food that comes from someone’s heart and is their passion. That’s the best food. Not trying to be anything else.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

My favorite thing to cook at home is sourdough bread. I love all the components of it and I’m fascinated by the process.

Rosemary Shortbread
From the kitchen of Chelsea Annett

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter
Maldon sea salt

Heat oven to 325°F. Pulse the sugar, salt and rosemary in the food processor. Add flour and pulse several times. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the flour mix. Pulse until the mixture looks like sand. Press dough into an 8” parchment-lined pan. Prick dough with a fork and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Bake until golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.

Featured photo: Katie Pope of Confections by Kate. Courtesy photo.

On The Job – Neva Cole

Museum communications director

Neva Cole is the communications director for the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in Dover.

Explain your job and what it entails.

I get to promote all the awesome things that the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire offers, including its two floors of hands-on exhibits, field trip opportunities, classes, play-based learning and parent and educator resources.

How long have you had this job?

It will be nine years this June, 2024.

What led you to this career field and your current job?

I previously worked at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester as a communications specialist, but on top of that I work as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, specializing in children’s books.

What kind of education or training did you need?

I went to Syracuse University for Illustration, then got an MFA from Lesley University. People joke a lot about how an art degree is pretty niche and you can’t do much with it, but in my experience it taught me to think outside the box and how important it is in any position to be able to prioritize quality work and creative problem-solving.

What is your typical at-work uniform or attire?

Well, working at a children’s museum definitely makes dressing for work fun. My favorite thing to wear is a dress decorated with dog drawings, rainbow leggings and T. rex earrings. And of course all staff dress up according to the season or holiday — the entire month of October is open season for costumes.

What is the most challenging thing about your work, and how do you deal with it?

Unfortunately, most of the work I do occurs behind a computer. But all of our staff, regardless of title, take time every day to get out from behind our desks and walk through the museum to interact with the guests, wave to babies, play trains with toddlers and offer help to parents and grandparents.

What do you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?

If only all 20-somethings could have the confidence of 40-somethings. At this stage of my career I know when to say no. I know when to admit I don’t know the answer to something, and that that’s totally fine.

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

Nonprofit work is so challenging and rewarding. I love what I get to promote and how it impacts the community. And I love that I get to be a part of something that I experienced as a kid and carry traditions forward for my own daughter.

What was the first job you ever had?

My very first job was a respite provider for a family with a child on the autism spectrum. I was 13 and I loved it. We would play games, run around his backyard, go for walks and play.

What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever received?

My ideas matter, and it’s important to speak up and speak out for the things you believe in. — Angie Sykeny

Five favorites
Favorite book: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Favorite movie: The Princess Bride
Favorite music: Taylor Swift
Favorite food: Guacamole
Favorite thing about NH: The fall

Featured photo: Neva Cole. Courtesy photo.

Work the Vote

Manchester holds training for primary poll workers

If you’re interested in working or volunteering at the polls for the Jan. 23 presidential primary election, there’s still time to register for the final training session on Jan. 6. JoAnn Ferruolo, Assistant City Clerk for the City of Manchester, provided information on the various roles, training details and the impact you can make.

What are the main roles and tasks for workers or volunteers at the polling stations on primary day?

The City of Manchester is currently looking to fill three positions in most of our 12 polling places for the Jan. 23, 2024, presidential primary election. All positions require an in-person training session prior to the election to be eligible to work.

The Deputy Registrar is responsible for registering voters at the polling place; there are several forms to be completed by the voter and deputy registrar. This position can be filled by a registered voter in New Hampshire. The hours are 5:30 a.m. to approximately 8:30 p.m., and pay is $180 for the day.

The Ballot Inspector performs multiple duties as assigned by the moderator, including, but not limited to, checking in voters on a poll pad, handing out ballots to voters, marking the official paper checklist, assisting voters and greeting voters. They must live in the ward that they work in. … The hours are 5 a.m. to approximately 9:30 p.m., and pay is $180 for the day.

Both positions require reading small print in variable lighting conditions and having legible penmanship and attention to detail.

A volunteer performs duties assigned by the moderator, which include, but are not limited to, greeting voters, counting cast and uncast votes, hand-counting votes, and [tallying] write-in votes after the polls close. A volunteer position can be filled by a registered voter in New Hampshire.

The hours are 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and as a volunteer position, there is no compensation.

How does someone sign up to work or volunteer at the polls, and what does the preparation process involve?

Anyone interested should contact the City of Manchester, Office of the City Clerk, by email: cityclerk@manchesternh.gov. We will assign a position and provide training dates and times. If a position is compensated, the person must complete an I9 and W4 form.

Can you describe the training provided to new poll workers or volunteers?

In-person training is conducted at Manchester City Hall. The training sessions range from one to two hours depending on the position. We provide training materials and instructions that are established by New Hampshire election law statutes or the Secretary of State/City Clerk guidance. Each trainee must take an oath of office during the training session to work at the polls.

What measures are in place to ensure safety and fairness at the polling stations?

Each election official must take an oath of office swearing and affirming that they will perform their duties according to New Hampshire laws, city ordinances and policies and the rules and regulations of the State of New Hampshire. There is an enforced ‘no campaigning’ rule in every polling place.

If someone misses the deadline to work or volunteer for this primary, how can they get involved in future elections?

The City of Manchester is always looking for engaged residents offering their time to assist us on Election Day. Interested parties can reach us by email. We keep contact information on file to reach out to interested parties prior to every election until the positions are filled. Each election varies in the number of workers we would require. Staffing the polling place is dependent on the current political activity and historical turnout.

On The Job – Kristen Glennon

Director of Rehabilitation, Fitness and
Occupational Health Services

Kristen Glennon is the Director of Rehabilitation, Fitness and Occupational Health Services for Elliot Health System in Manchester.

Explain your job and what it entails.

I oversee the inpatient (hospital) and outpatient rehab clinics for the health system, as well as our three fitness centers and our occupational health clinic. I help oversee the operations of the clinics, manage budgets, support staff and ensure the departments have what they need to be as successful as possible. I’m also a licensed physical therapist.

How long have you had this job?

I’ve been a physical therapist for 27 years and have been in clinic management for 11 years.

What led you to this career field and your current job?

In high school I knew I wanted to go into medicine … I observed some physical therapists in my hometown and thought it was great to help people get back to their functional independence. I decided to go to school for physical therapy … After many years as a physical therapist in a variety of different settings, I decided to move into the management side of the operations.

What kind of education or training did you need?

When I went to school I received a bachelor’s of science in physical therapy. Nowadays you need a doctorate in physical therapy to become a PT. As part of schooling, students do clinical affiliations at different clinics to get exposure to a variety of clinical settings. And there is a requirement for continuing education throughout your career. As I’m now in management, I am working toward my MBA to further my business training.

What is your typical at-work uniform or attire?

As a physical therapist, you could be wearing scrubs, which is common within the hospital, or business casual attire for outpatient therapy clinics..

What is the most challenging thing about your work, and how do you deal with it?

From a clinical perspective, having a patient that isn’t getting better is definitely the most challenging situation.

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

We love to educate on prevention of injuries. While we’re here to treat the injuries, teaching patients and caregivers how to prevent them is a major part of the work.

What was the first job you ever had?

In the rehab field, my first job was at a sports clinic in Boston when I was a co-op student at Northeastern University. My first job ever was at my hometown movie theater.

What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever received?

Understand what the patient’s goals are and meet them where they are.

Five favorites
Favorite book: The DaVinci Code
Favorite movie: The Princess Bride
Favorite music: Musicals
Favorite food: Tacos
Favorite thing about NH: How close you are to everything — the mountains, lakes, ocean and cities.

Featured photo: Kristen Glennon. Courtesy photo.

State of the state

A snapshot of New Hampshire’s economic climate

Mike Skelton, President and CEO of the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire, analyzes the state’s economic climate for 2023. His comprehensive overview covers key topics such as inflation, housing and job market trends, highlighting the challenges and opportunities that have shaped New Hampshire’s business landscape. Skelton reflects on the year’s economic trajectory and provides projections for 2024, offering insights into the state’s economic health and future prospects.

How would you characterize the economic climate in New Hampshire for the year 2023?

I would say the economic climate in New Hampshire for 2023 was or is strong with some reservations and risk factors that inhibited the ability for some businesses to grow in the manner that they would like to or to make investments with full confidence. Those risk factors primarily were rising interest rates, inflation, consumer confidence and sentiment, as well as an overarching sense of potential risk with world events and whether predictions about some sort of recessionary environment were coming to fruition. The general conditions lasted through the bulk of 2023. However, as the year wore on, folks began to warm up to the fact that while those risk factors are present, economic conditions on the ground are reasonably strong. Unemployment remains low, job growth remains steady and demand remains high in most, if not all, sectors. Inflation was easing slowly, and the hopes of avoiding a recession and heading to the “soft landing,” which was the Federal Reserve Bank’s target with its rate adjustment strategy over the last year, became more and more plausible as a potential path forward.

What have been the key drivers of inflation in New Hampshire this past year, and how have they impacted local businesses?

The key drivers of inflation in New Hampshire are similar to those in any other place around the country. Depending on your perspective as a consumer or a business, you have too many dollars and too much demand chasing too few products or too little supply. As supply has increased — considering there were supply chain issues in the last few years, whether it was in vehicles or various consumer products, and those have moderated or corrected — inflation has followed that in terms of decreasing. And with the Fed’s adjustments to interest rates, that obviously has an effect on dampening demand. So the impact on businesses is potentially seen in lessening demand. However, the surprise for many folks was that demand has remained relatively high, whether you’re in the services business or in the products business. Demand has remained pretty steady. It may be starting to slow a little bit now from the earlier breakneck pace, but it’s still quite strong, and that’s evident in what you see in economic indicators, job numbers and GDP. Where the biggest impact was felt was really in interest rates and how that impacts businesses’ ability to borrow money and finance expansions or operations, or activities they’re looking to invest in for future growth. This is probably most felt in the construction industry and the housing sector. But we’re seeing some shifts now with the Fed signaling that they are done raising rates and that rate cuts are expected at some point in 2024. We’ve already started to see interest rates begin to decline, and that starts to build some momentum for 2024, in terms of businesses looking at better conditions for financing operations and financing expansions in the manner they would like to.

How did New Hampshire’s housing market evolve over 2023?

The housing market continues to be extremely challenging, and it’s something that is inhibiting our growth as an economy. We have workers and citizens who would like more housing options, who would like more affordable housing options, and we simply don’t have enough supply. That’s really the story of New Hampshire’s housing market. It’s similar to many other states around us and locations across the country: We have too much demand chasing too little supply, and we’re not building enough new units to satisfy that increasing demand. That, of course, has pushed average prices higher over the past several years, making it more difficult for new homeowners to enter the market, for homeowners who wish to upgrade or move into a larger housing unit to find that, and it makes it more difficult for older homeowners who look to downsize. We’re seeing those stressors across the housing market, and, of course, that also translates to our rental market, where rental vacancy rates continue to be below 1 percent, well far off of what we would like to see as a balanced housing market. So this continues to be a challenge. There’s a flip side of the issue where it is positive that people want to move here and want to live here. New Hampshire has a lot of desirable qualities, both in terms of job availability and quality of life, that attract people. That contributes to the demand in our housing market. But we can’t sustain having this level of demand without it coming at the cost of holding back economic growth. If we’re going to continue to grow as an economy — and for companies that wish to hire to find a qualified workforce — we need to create more housing opportunities here in 2024 and for the foreseeable future.

What changes have you observed in the New Hampshire job market? Are there any sectors that have shown significant growth or decline?

Overall, the job market is robust. New Hampshire continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and I don’t necessarily see that changing dramatically in 2024. We’re going to continue to have an overall shortage of available workers compared to available jobs, and that underscores the need to create pathways for workers to move here, to work here, to open themselves up to opportunities here in New Hampshire. That cuts across multiple sectors, whether you’re looking at workers in the retail sector or manufacturing sector, or the need for more workers in high tech or engineering, or more positions that require advanced degrees or training. It’s really across the board, and I would expect New Hampshire to continue to be in fierce competition with surrounding states and other parts of the country, given the advent of remote work, to attract and retain workers here.

What were the major challenges and opportunities faced by New Hampshire businesses in 2023?

In this type of economy, where there [are] some overarching risk factors relating to changes in the interest rate environment, world events impacting the economy and consumer confidence, a challenge for businesses was navigating that uncertainty while continuing to invest in the future, without having necessarily a clearer picture of what the future might bring. Would there be a recession? Or would we navigate through that? Earlier this year at one point, national economists were forecasting, in some cases with 100 percent certainty, that there would be a recession in 2023. So, for many businesses, the challenge was bracing for a downturn in the economy that ultimately has not come, and we hope does not come, but through that, continuing to look toward the future and how they can grow. In terms of opportunities, this is a time where, for companies, depending on what their industry sector is, coming out of a challenging few years with the pandemic, with high pent-up demand across multiple sectors of the economy, this is an opportunity to grow and to discover new markets, new customers and new strategies for how to reach those customers. This was a year where if you were able to navigate the uncertainty, there were probably some pretty interesting and exciting business opportunities to discover that could position you for growth well into the future.

What potential impacts do you anticipate the upcoming elections having on New Hampshire’s business environment and economic policies?

At this point, because we’re in the primary season right now, it’s a little early to say what type of impact it might have. Generally speaking, I think the business community looks to the political realm, first and foremost, for stability. And if an election cycle is particularly highly partisan and not necessarily focused on important policy issues, that can serve as a distraction from some of the important business issues that business leaders and those interested in the future of the economy would like to discuss. So, hopefully, the election cycle will allow for and have a platform where voters will be able to dig into what are the business policies and plans of each candidate, whether it’s at the presidential level or congressional level, down to state officeholders, because those issues really matter and will have a material impact on the businesses in which they work as well as their individual quality of lives. … As is the case with most elections, economic issues, in the end, tend to bubble up to the top, and how voters perceive the health of the economy and the direction of the economy usually has a significant impact on their decision-making when they ultimately go to the polls.

Based on current trends, what are your projections or expectations for New Hampshire’s economy in 2024?

I’ll caveat this to say that I am not an economist, so this is not a traditional economic forecast, but from my perspective, as CEO of the BIA, I feel very bullish on New Hampshire’s economy heading into 2024 and believe we have significant opportunities for continued growth. … I think there is increasing optimism. There are certainly going to remain some economic challenges and risk factors, but the environment and conditions are improving or strengthening compared to where we were a year ago. … New Hampshire has a favorable business climate with a business-friendly regulatory system. We have a highly educated workforce, and we have a strong quality of life and community. We’re a state that is regularly rated as one of the best places to live and raise a family. We have all of these pillars of what makes the state a strong place to do business already here, and in relatively good condition and health. That allows us to compete really well against our neighbors here in New England, and with some other states. Where we need to continue to focus is really the cost of housing, the cost of energy, and attracting workers; those are the key challenges, and I think we are making progress on them, but it’s a question of how much progress can we make year in, year out to realize the growth potential that is here before us. In terms of 2024, if continuing in the current direction with a strong job market, a lower interest rate environment and an overall economy that’s headed toward a soft landing — avoiding a recession — I think you’re going to see a really strong year for New Hampshire economically, and businesses are going to have more confidence to move forward with hiring or expansion plans that they may have put off in 2023 that they were a little worried about. They wanted a clearer picture. … So I think that is an optimistic and also realistic view of where we could be headed. I think New Hampshire continues to be well-positioned compared to many other states in the region and also around the country.

Featured photo: Mike Skelton.

Future workers

Small business owners take their issue to D.C.

In response to the Basel III Endgame regulation, which could escalate capital costs for small businesses, Dina Akel, owner of Vieira Luxe, a bridal and special occasion wear shop in Nashua, joined more than 50 entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14. Their mission: to articulate to lawmakers and Federal Reserve officials the significant impact this regulation could have on small businesses like hers.

How did the Basel III Endgame regulation discussions in Washington impact your business outlook?

I went to D.C. to advocate for small businesses that will be impacted by this proposal. It’s concerning that it will be even more difficult to access capital than it already is. It was my first time in D.C. ever, so I was super nervous, but I knew how important it was to be there. After the discussion we had with our senators and representatives, I felt my story was heard, and I was confident they were in our corner. I’m confident they’ll do everything they can to advocate for us.

What major challenges did you discuss in Washington regarding the high interest rate environment?

One of the discussions was actually my personal story about recently applying for business funding through grants and loans. I applied to various grants and was unsuccessful, so alternatively I applied to my long-standing banks, and was also unsuccessful. I was feeling a little defeated at that time. I finally asked one of my banks and a representative from SBDC if they had any other funding resources for me. They connected me with a nonprofit lender. The first time around, I got denied. The second time I was approved. When I spoke to them, they told me we could aim for the 5 to 8 percent interest rate mark, which is what I was expecting. Once I got the approval, though, they provided me with a loan in the two-digit mark. That was definitely more than I could afford. However, I was desperate since the business was growing so quickly and I lacked the resources to keep up with it, so I accepted the loan, and honestly, we can’t afford for the situation to get any worse.

What outcomes or responses did you receive from your meetings in Washington?

We received very positive responses from our members of Congress. They were all willing to help and push against this proposal, which was great.

How might the outcomes from Washington affect your future business plans?

I’m a little worried that if this proposal goes through our customers might actually experience more inflated prices. We may not be able to provide the same high-quality products our customers love, and we may not be able to keep up with the demand and, God forbid, shut down in the process. I’m already struggling to keep up with all of it. People need to remember that when you’re a small business owner, in your first few years you are literally everything in the business: the customer representative, the cashier, the accountant, the inventory manager, custodian, website builder, you name it. When that gets to be too much, we have to delegate and hire people to help us. The reality is you need money to make money.

What were your key takeaways from the interactions in Washington?

Small businesses are already considered risky to lend to. If this goes forward, and interest rates also go up, we’ll be seeing a lot of businesses closed down.

What follow-up actions or continued advocacy plans do you have post-Washington visit?

I’m part of the Nashua Chamber of Commerce, the Suffolk University alumni, the National Association for Catering and Events, and a few more groups. I’ll make sure I have an opportunity to speak with them all about this. That way they can speak up and share their stories. They can call members of Congress and let them know why it’s important. We can all come together as a community to advocate for all small businesses.

Featured photo: Dina Akel, right, joined by U.S. Representative Ann McLane Kuster and a group of New Hampshire small business owners outside the U.S. Capitol. Courtesy photo.

In the kitchen with Tracy Fitts

Born and raised in New Hampshire, Tracy Fitts has had experience in the restaurant industry since she was 13 years old working at Golden Acres, a clam shack in Pinardville. Along the way she met Cyndee Williams, who went on to open White Birch Eatery in Goffstown. There Williams asked Fitts to join in, and she is now the executive chef and director of operations.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

There are so many tools, pieces of equipment and people that we need to do what we do. It’s all important. I will agree with a lot of the other chefs that a good-quality knife is needed.

What would you have for your last meal?

Anything from Mama Reykjavik in Iceland, an absolutely delicious vegan restaurant with an artsy hippie vibe and the nicest people.

What is your favorite local eatery?

Aside from White Birch — I truly do love coming here — I would say if I am taking a bit of a drive it would be Green Elephant in Portsmouth. For Manchester, it’s Restoration Cafe.

Name a celebrity you would like to see eating in your restaurant?

I wouldn’t mind seeing Lenny Kravitz sitting at my table, but honestly, nothing makes me happier than one of our customers telling me how much they enjoyed their meal. It’s why I do this and have done this for 30 years.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Our vegan Reuben.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

Restaurants offering alternative menus to include gluten-free and vegan options. It’s so great.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Noodle bowls, rice noodles, spicy broth or peanut sauce and lots of fresh veggies.

Warm Spinach Dip
From Tracy: This dip is a quick crowd-pleaser! All of the ingredients get stirred together and spread into a baking dish. The finishing touch is another layer of cheese. Bake your dip until it’s hot and melted, serve with bread, or tortilla or pita chips.

8 ounces cream cheese softened
1 cup sour cream
10 ounces fresh spinach leaves
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (save 1/2 cup to sprinkle on the top at the end and melt in the oven)
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
bread, crackers and vegetables for serving
cooking spray (spray your dish first to make clean-up easier)

The most important part of making this recipe is to be sure all of the water is removed from your spinach. You can squeeze the spinach between your fingers to remove the liquid, press it in a potato ricer, or wrap the spinach in a few layers of paper towels to wring out all the liquid. You can use frozen spinach or sauté fresh — just make sure to cool it and squeeze dry.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes and remove and sprinkle the remaining cheese and place back in the oven for 10 minutes to melt.

Featured photo: Katie Pope of Confections by Kate. Courtesy photo.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!