New Hampshire Rural Makers Alliance Seeks to Strengthen Area Industry Clusters | News

CLAREMONT – A regional collaboration of higher education institutions, local governments and inventive/entrepreneurial hubs set out to create a new 21st century workforce, in part by attracting younger generations interested in creative pursuits, practical and technology driven.

The New Hampshire Rural Makers Alliance is a new partnership of colleges, makerspaces, business incubators, local governments, and planning organizations that span Sullivan and Cheshire counties as well as Lower County of Grafton. Partners include The Claremont Makerspace; River Valley Community College; the Regional Technology Center in Dartmouth, Lebanon; and the Hannah Grimes Center, an entrepreneur support center in Keene.

On Monday, Sullivan County Commissioners authorized Sullivan County Executive Derek Ferland to apply for a federal Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant of up to $5 million on behalf of the New Hampshire Rural Makers Alliance to fund the organization’s workforce development plan.

These workforce development initiatives will specifically focus on “industry clusters that already have a prevalence in our region,” according to Steve Fortier, executive director of The Claremont Makerspace.

If awarded, these funds will be distributed to partner organizations in the area to help build the local workforce to support their most important industry sectors, Fortier told Sullivan County Commissioners.

In the Lower Grafton County area, that industry is biotechnology and medical technology, which has seen its growth virtually explode in recent years.

In Sullivan County, those industries focus on advanced manufacturing and “green building,” or constructing or operating buildings that reduce or eliminate negative impacts on the environment, Fortier said.

In Cheshire County, the focus will be on the optical industry, Fortier added.

This grant program “is very adamant” about this project “growing the workforce already in the region,” as opposed to “importing people” from outside the region, according to Fortier.

“They don’t want to support an initiative that just rips people out,” Fortier said.

Although workforce development initiatives are not new to Sullivan County, the New Hampshire Rural Makers Alliance stands out in several ways.

First, the Alliance is a multi-county regional initiative.

Claremont Director of Planning and Development Nancy Merrill, who participated in the project as a municipal representative, said such regional grant-funded initiatives are not common.

While different partners will focus on different economic sectors, each individual contribution will mutually benefit the region as a whole, Merrill explained.

“Everyone has a role to play that’s a little different,” Merrill said. “But all of this supports the region’s economy.”

Another defining feature of this new project is its focus on contemporary “maker” culture rather than the type of manufacturing culture that has shaped the New Hampshire and Vermont communities that share the Connecticut River Valley.

“We called ourselves the New Hampshire Rural Makers Alliance very intentionally,” Fortier told the commissioners. “We want to shift the thinking from ‘making’ to ‘making’.”

The “Maker” culture is a culture of DIY, or Do It Yourself, of people who manufacture, invent and share their skills.

Makerspaces, like the one in Claremont, provide a space for makers to learn, socialize, and access industry-grade resources such as 3D printers, electronics, crafting supplies and tools, and more. equipment.

Fortier said a portion of the grant money, if awarded, would fund a marketing campaign for this project and the creation of a brand that will appeal to young adults.

Connecting with young people is critical, Merrill explained, because in addition to the problem of rapidly aging and retiring New Hampshire’s workforce, many young adults show no interest in entering the workforce. these manufacturing areas.

Fortier said the partners asked 82 large employers in the region how many more people they would hire over the next five years if there was a large pool of qualified talent.

“In some cases, the number [they gave] was astronomical,” Fortier said, adding that one such company was based in Claremont.

Sullivan County will apply for the grant only on behalf of the collaboration. Fortier said the Upper Sunapee Lake Valley Regional Planning Commission would act as the grant administrator.

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