Residents recognize the need for a strong and diverse economy in order to grow and prosper and enhance Keene’s quality of life. With its roots in an industrial past, Keene looks to retain the best of these traditional economic drivers while positioning itself for new economic opportunities. Indeed, Keene’s long-range goal from 1993 is still relevant: To continue as the economic center for the region by encouraging economic development that will increase employment opportunities and expand our tax base while maintaining quality of life. However, Keene does not desire to see economic development solely for its own sake. The community wants to balance its traditional economic sectors with new opportunities, such as green technology and sustainable manufacturing with a focus on local ownership. Community members want new businesses in Keene that support the community’s goals for social, financial and environmental responsibility.
A primary strength of Keene’s economy is diversity. Large and small businesses, institutions such as Keene State College, Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth Hitchcock Keene, and Antioch University New England, government, and non-profits all contribute to economic resilience. Keene does not rely on one business sector for jobs and economic growth, a fact that was recognized as contributing to a designation by Forbes Magazine in 2008 as the third-least economically vulnerable micropolitan town in America. Maintaining and expanding this diversity is central to strengthening Keene’s economic position.
New jobs must be a primary objective for Keene and the region. High quality jobs that pay a living wage are viewed as imperative to Keene’s long term economic sustainability, expansion of tax base and lessening the tax burden on homeowners. Growing the job base will require a multi-pronged approach including fostering local start-up companies, retaining and expanding existing firms, and new business recruitment. All of these need strong attention and new programs to succeed.
Sixty-five percent of all businesses in Keene are firms with fewer than 10 employees, and small businesses including sole proprietorships are likely to remain the predominant form of local business. Growth of small businesses must be a key aspect of Keene’s economic development strategy, and Keene should consider promoting itself as a New England region “Entrepreneur Center.”
Of all new jobs generated since 2000, retail jobs have seen the greatest increase primarily due to the opening of Monadnock Marketplace. Most of these jobs provide a modest wage with limited benefits and little chance for advancement. The low wage scale of retail jobs makes living in Keene difficult due to high housing costs. As a result, employees are forced to commute to Keene from outlying towns, increasing roadway congestion and carbon emissions and decreasing the region’s overall sustainability. High-quality jobs which pay a living wage have the opposite effect and help preserve Keene’s long-term quality of life.
Crafts people, artisans, green-collar jobs, health care, finance, eco-technology and sustainable manufacturing, research, product design, software development, technical services and renewable energy are all business types that could emerge within the community along with a shift toward sustainable thinking. Stimulating these business types will create healthy commerce and pay dividends toward the long-term economic health of the region.