As Rochester's labor market remains tight, businesses feel the pinch

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From left Hagan's Motor Pool needs auto techs, Rokon President Tom Blais during visit with Gov. Chris Sununu last week and Great Bay Community College's Milton Rd. campus where a new generation of aerospace workers are being trained. (Courtesy photos)

ROCHESTER - With unemployment in New Hampshire at record lows, it was inevitable that before long the problem would come home to roost for local businesses.

That time is now, when right here in Rochester, some businesses are unable to expand while others are looking at new ways to attract skilled workers and retain them once they've come on board.

For Hagan's Motor Pool owner Mike Hagan, it means putting off expanding his inventory at his Farmington Road used car dealership and repair facility.

Hagan's, which specializes in German-built automobile sales and service, said with the tight labor market he has been unable to find qualified mechanics.

"For me, it's hurting my inventory cause I can't find somebody who's a qualified mechanic and has his own tools," Hagan said recently. "I'd like to expand but I can't."

Meanwhile another city business owner, Ted Karveris, who owns Ted Karveris Dependable Heating LLC, told The Rochester Voice he'd love to build on his customer base, but he's unable because he can't find qualified HVAC technicians.

The recent revelations from small Rochester businesses was underscored by a survey produced last month by WalletHub, which found that New Hampshire was overall the third-least favorable state in which to start a business. In terms of its human capital, that is the number of qualified individuals ready to fill necessary positions, the Granite State was listed the second-worst state.

Other negatives ascribed in the report included New Hampshire being 43rd in cost of living and 44th in labor costs.

At Rokon International, a decades-old Rochester company that designs and builds specialized off-road motorcycles designed for use in rough terrain, their 10-member employee staff enjoys low turnover, but Marketing Director Brad Blais admits that whenever there is a change it is felt throughout the company.

"We're a small company here, so every hire is a key hire," he said on Monday. "There's not a lot of turnover, but it's a fragile ecosystem."

Blais said the tight unemployment makes it more difficult for Rokon to acquire and retain personnel.

The reason, he said, is there are more good-paying job openings out there then there's been in many years.

"They (workers) have more opportunities. People are fighting over them, which is good for them," he said. "We work very hard to retain them, too."

Blais said in an effort to enlarge the shrinking labor pool, Rokon will on occasion hire entry-level personnel for some on the job training, but that comes with a caveat.

"If we bring in entry level we expect them to learn," he added.

However, those entry level positions are limited since many of the positions there - like welders - are highly skilled.

"We need those folks to be able to weld right when they start," Blais said.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who visited Rokon just last week, has made it a mission to ensure the talent pool in the Granite State remains ready to fill the jobs of tomorrow.

He has emphasized the need to give New Hampshire's youth career choices long before their junior or senior year in high school.

"Give them a school choice starting earlier like in the sixth grade," Sununu said at a forum in Rochester last year. "Give them classes, options they can aspire to."

He said this will be key in keeping the state's youth here at home and ready to take the demanding, sometimes tech-heavy jobs that tomorrow's businesses will call for and help to maintain the New Hampshire advantage, which he has said is the envy of the nation.

Jennifer Murph Aubin, who works in the city's Office of Economic Development, said the city has a human capital active strategy and enjoys a great relationship with Great Bay Community College's Advanced Technology & Academic Center where training for jobs at the Safran Aerospace and Albany Engineering occurs.

"Great Bay is doing amazing work," Aubin said.

Due to the programs offered young people including students at Spaulding's Richard W. Creteau Technology Center, Rochester is now considered the worldwide hub in the training of composites used heavily at the two local aerospace giants.

One of the key components of the success Great Bay has enjoyed is their ability to get the machines students would be working on at Safran or Albany on their Milton Road campus, a sprawling 30,000 square foot space that is now honeycombed with small training rooms, classrooms and lecture halls.

To read the full Wallethub survey go to

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