Photo: The view from the front porch at Schoodacs Coffee & Tea on Main Street in Warner can inspire hope for the town’s business growth. (Courtesy of Schoodacs)
By Ray Carbone
WARNER – Things can be tough economically for small New England towns these days.
Municipal costs of both materials and employment regularly increase while property owners consistently complain about rising property tax rates.
But Charlie Albano, chairman of the town’s economic development advisory committee, says his hometown has an advantage over other communities.
“We have a Main Street,” he smiled, looking out onto the street from Schoodacs Coffees & Teas’s front porch one hot day last week. “It’s small and vibrant. And lots of small towns don’t have that, do they?”
The committee is also updating the town website to emphasize economic development and tourism, and working on a new visitor brochure aimed at drawing more Interstate 89 drivers into the village.
Albano and his ten-member group, which was appointed by the board of selectmen two years ago, hope to build on that strength and other positive community attributes to spur economic growth, make the town more enjoyable, and temper the tax rate.
Albano says that a large part of the committee’s job is simply educating citizens about the advantages and ideas behind economic growth for Warner.
For instance, some have suggested that attracting a large business into the town would significantly lower their tax bills. “What do you think it would do if we brought in a big business that added a million dollars in tax revenue a year for the town of Warner,” Albano asked rhetorically.
“It would drop the property tax rate by about two-cents per thousands (dollar of property value,)” he reported, which is much less than what most people would expect.
Warner could benefit from some kind of bigger facility, the chairman explained, but it should be one that meets locally articulated needs, is environmentally responsible, fits the town’s aesthetics, and provides new tax revenue.
Those are the goals listed in the town’s master plan and the standards the committee is using, he said.
The group has just finished working a survey that will allow residents to identify how they would like to see Warner grow. It’s also involved with a redesign of the town website that will emphasize economic development and tourism, and its planning to distribute a new town-themed visitor brochure this fall aimed at drawing more Interstate 89 drivers into the village.
Previous surveys have helped, he noted. In the past, residents have used them to indicate their desire for increased dining options in town and a local pharmacy. Now, the popular eatery called The Local is celebrating its fifth anniversary and the nearby Warner Pharmacy is only about two yeas older. In addition, the new Warner Public Market on Main Street, scheduled to open this summer, will feature locally sourced goods, providing more healthy food options, the chairman noted.
The committee’s new survey, which should be available in print and online within the next few weeks, might indicate that residents want a local dental office and/or more daycare options. “So, maybe we (town officials) should go seek a dentist,” Albano suggested.
Warner has an uncommonly large percentage of home-based businesses and some of those owners could benefit from access to economic development support, the chairman said. “We could look at creating a business incubator where a small business could learn how to grow and expand, how to do a business plan, modern marketing techniques, and more.
“Or, If a business wanted to expand or come to Warner, can we create and institute a new or existing tax incentive program,” he asked rhetorically.
Albano also suggests that Warner could benefit from an increased emphasis on tourism. While the town is known for its local museums, visitors may also be interested in more than 15 other businesses and activities in the community. “Tourism dollars circulate throughout a community,” he noted, without adding significantly to the cost of town services.
While the economic development committee is looking forward to reviewing residents’ input from its survey results this fall, it has already identified some tentative goals.
One is to develop a plan to permanently staff the parks and recreation department to increase awareness of local recreational opportunities. Another is to improve walkability in Warner with improved signage and street/trail development. The committee also hopes to raise the profile of agritourism in town.
Right now, the group is continuing to seek input from local residents and businesses. It meets the third Wednesday of every month and the meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 20, from 6-8 p.m., in the town hall. (The meetings may soon be moving to a larger venue in the future so check the town website, http://www.warner.nh.us)
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.