NH businesses worried about health care, credit

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ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — When Marshall Malone started his tea business six years ago, it cost him 60 cents to produce a metal tin to hold the product. Today, it costs $1.08 for Malone, who employs 10 people at his Portsmouth Tea Co.

But production costs aren’t his only headache.

“Revenues are really my problem, and the ability to get new business,” Malone told a group of about 40 people at Thursday’s Jobs Cabinet Roundtable that included Gov. John Lynch and state economic officials.

Lynch and his staff were gauging the state’s economic climate by getting first-hand accounts from the business leaders attending the meeting.

They heard feedback on subjects ranging from high health care costs to gaining easier access to credit lines. It comes four years after a similar series of roundtables resulted in some government initiatives to help business.

The group met at the Frisbie Conference Center in Rochester. Lynch said one concern that he didn’t hear back in 2006 was concern about access to capital.

Mark McGreevy, who runs Agility Manufacturing in Dover, which makes circuit boards, said he has to get a line of credit to buy materials before he can build. “That’s a concern we run into,” he said. “We can’t be competitive on a bid.” He said some manufacturers of parts his company buys have shut down their factories, and the only place that has some of the parts is China, which won’t sell them “unless we give them the money up front.”

McGreevy and other business owners also said they were worried about rising health care costs. “We’re paying our employees’ premiums and we’re squeezed,” he said.

Lynch said health care costs are a concern, saying that some businesses have lowered coverage for their employees, while others have eliminated it. “Right now the quality of health care in New Hampshire is high, but our costs are high,” he said.

Other focuses for the state are ongoing job training and getting more skilled workers for jobs, Lynch said.

The 2006 roundtables produced ideas that served as the basis for New Hampshire HealthFirst, a health insurance option for small businesses that started in October; an energy-efficiency savings program; a job training fund; a job match Web site; and a research-and-development tax credit that encourages businesses to invest in developing technologies.

Roy Duddy, the state’s director of the Division of Economic Development, said one of the most successful programs so far as been the energy program, which offered free audits to about 20 companies over the last two years, with plans for 45 more.

“We’ve really been able to focus on not only saying what they need to do from an energy perspective but also how they can do it, how they can finance it, how they can accomplish those productive measures without out-of-pocket costs,” he said.