Challenge and opportunity

Posted

Last week's story on the ripple effect in Manchester from the retail industry's national decline spells out the issues we're facing locally.

That industry has been and remains an important economic engine for Manchester, providing jobs and tax revenue that fund our schools and public services. It's not going away any time soon, and its continued health matters a great deal. Tourism matters, of course, but the permanent residents of the Northshire need Manchester to be a healthy retail hub, too.

But there's good news.

This is a challenging time, to be certain, but this is also an opportunity for Manchester to define itself, emphasize what makes the community unique, improve the aspects that need some care and attention, and then leverage those assets to draw and welcome the next generation of visitors and residents.

Is the sky falling? Maybe it feels that way every time a business locks the doors. But there's evidence to the contrary.

Lana Hauben of Manchester Designer Outlets points out in our story that millions of dollars have been invested in Manchester in the past few years. "Why do you think these companies are doing this? They don't just throw the dice on the table," she said. She's correct.

Trends come and go, and industries cycle up and down. Place, however, is permanent and what matters most, if you take good care of it. And place is Manchester's greatest advantage for drawing new retail, and new visitors and residents — its natural beauty and its wide offerings of cultural and outdoor sports activities. The region's creative economy in particular is poised for a tremendous summer and fall.

We're told millennials value experiences over acquisition for its own sake. And Manchester is long on experiences, whether it's an afternoon of skiing or snowboarding, a hike up Equinox Mountain, a round of golf, a bike ride through the woods or enjoying world-class theater and music.

We think Peter Keelan, whose company owns a fair amount of real estate locally, had some smart points about what it will take to bring young adults and young families here.

"The town needs to take a hard look at where they want to be in five or ten years, and a big issue in Manchester is affordable housing," Keelan aid. "I think Manchester can solve the retail issue long term by getting younger professionals into town, but we need to change the zoning so retailers such as myself can offer more opportunities."

The town plan just adopted by the Select Board recognizes that, and so does the draft zoning ordinance recently proposed by the Planning Board.

Providing more workforce housing options as part of a walkable, vibrant core surrounding Manchester Center will do more than allow more residents to move in; it will give companies doing business here the means to grow.

In the meantime, there's work to be done.

Challenge and opportunity, after all, are two sides of the same coin.


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