Survey asks why young people stay in, leave New Hampshire

Fewer than half of New Hampshire residents ages 20 to 40 say they probably or definitely will remain in the state for the next two years, according to a survey released Monday.

The survey was conducted for Stay Work Play, a nonprofit that promotes the state to young workers and recent graduates, and Eversource, a utility that like many businesses has struggled to attract and retain workers at a time when the state has one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates and one of the oldest populations.

About 60 percent of participants said they were either very satisfied or completely satisfied with New Hampshire overall, and the state scored well in categories such as education, outdoor recreation and safety. But nearly 30 percent of participants said they would definitely or probably consider leaving New Hampshire in the next two years.

"That's not a place we want to be in," said Will Stewart, the nonprofit's executive director.

Work and weather were commonly cited as reasons, though respondents also raised concerns about housing, jobs, cultural opportunities and opportunities to meet people. Highlighting what he called "the saddest slide" during his presentation, Stewart said he was particularly struck by the fact that one in five said they didn't have a single friend nearby.

"This is critically important and going to be one of Stay Work Play's focuses," he said.

The organization plans to use the data in part to expand its work with networking organizations for young professionals and to advocate on their behalf at the Statehouse. And while the survey, and the group's focus, has been on the 20- to 40-year-old age range, it also plans to target younger people given that about two-thirds of high school graduates going on to four-year colleges leave the state. On Tuesday, Stay Work Play is announcing a partnership with the New Hampshire College and University Council aimed at boosting enrollment in the state's higher learning institutions and retaining more high school graduates.

"We realize that for a lot of those people, it's too late, we need to go upstream," Stewart said.

Bill Quinlan, president of New Hampshire operations for Eversource, said his company recently created a partnership with Manchester Community College to provide internships for students interested in becoming linemen. Unlike in decades past, young people aren't following their fathers and grandfathers into the utility business, and today's technology requires new skills, he said.

"Our biggest challenge is how to keep young talent in the state," he said. "And to be successful, we need to hear from the young people we're talking about."

The phone and internet survey of 420 residents ages 20 to 40 was conducted Dec. 8-25 by RKM Research.