Loudon keeps its economic engines running

Already favored by a thriving agricultural industry, multiple small businesses and a fast lane that attracts tens of thousands of people, the town of Loudon offers new incentives to attract even more commerce.

Over the past four years, the city has created a new Economic Development Committee, four Economic Revitalization Zones (with a fifth on the drawing board), a Chapter 79E Community Revitalization Tax Relief Program, and a Community Revitalization Committee. technical review to streamline the development application process.

“There is a strong interest in using the tools the city has to see what kind of sustainability it can promote,” says Michael Tardiff, executive director of the Central NH Regional Planning Commission.

The town of 5,600, just northeast of Concord, has a strong farming tradition, carried on today by commodity and tree farms like Meadow Ledge Farm, Pleasant View Gardens, Pearl & Sons Farm and DS Cole Growers.

“There’s not much you can get that isn’t grown locally,” says Jimmie Hinson, chairman of the city’s economic development committee.

Farms, adds Tardiff, are “a big part of what makes Loudon Loudon”. A relative newcomer to town, hydroponic lettuce grower Lef Farms, is already poised to expand its business after its recent acquisition by New York-based BrightFarms, known for greens like Sunny Crunch. Plans are to expand the greenhouse farm from just over an acre to 14 acres, all on the existing Route 106 site, with the project due to begin this year.

“Lef’s dedicated customer base and established presence in the region will help us quickly become a family brand in New England, which has the nation’s largest market share in the indoor farming category,” says Abby Prior. , Commercial Director of BrightFarms. “The Loudon farm is also a prime location for expansion and rapid delivery to local supermarkets. We have room for fourteen times the farm, reaching new customers at a record pace. »

Speedway in the driver’s seat

But the city’s most visible economic engine is the 76,000-seat NH Motor Speedway, which opened in 1990 and draws crowds for its NASCAR races and the Loudon Classic, the longest-running motorcycle event in North America. North. “When a race is in town, there’s an energy and buzz that not only has a ripple effect in Loudon, but benefits the state’s economy as a whole,” says Hinson.

Fire Chief Tom Blanchette, a member and former chair of the economic development committee, agrees. “The little restaurants we have in town, the hotel, the convenience stores, the service providers, they all benefit from having the freeway,” he says. “When someone is at the racetrack, the spouse and children can be at Meadow Ledge picking apples. The diversity we have in town offers families the opportunity to enjoy their time here.

Among the businesses benefiting from these crowds are a Quality Inn, three campgrounds, the Loudon Country Club and a restaurant, as well as several cafes and breakfast spots, including The Eggshell, which offers a homemade cinnamon roll. which Hinson is particularly fond of.

“A lot of families who come for NASCAR in July make it their vacation and spend the whole week there,” says Shannon Stephens, communications manager at the speedway. “People don’t just get to the freeway and leave. They also explore the area.

The economic impact of the highway on Loudon goes beyond visitor spending. It also pays more than $500,000 a year in taxes to the city, according to tax collector Helen McNeil.

Stephens says the site hosts two main events a year, a NASCAR weekend in July and Motorcycle Week in June, but offers multiple track rentals each weekend between April and October. Its annual Gift of Lights event during the holiday season is a 2.5-mile drive-in show with 3.5 million lights, over 520 screens and festive stages. The attraction typically draws 12,000 vehicles, but last year drew nearly three times that number as families locked down by COVID sought a safe vacation outing, she said.

The speedway is also proud to give back to the community through its annual Speedway Cares Day, according to Stephens, which involves the entire staff in a local project such as the scraping and painting this year of a century-old fence in the most old city cemetery.

More than the highway

The Speedway overshadows the diversity of the city’s economy. Several small businesses are thriving along the city’s main road, Route 106, traveled by some 22,000 to 30,000 vehicles daily, according to Blanchette. Many of these businesses are related to trades. “You can find everything from a stump grinder to plumbing, electrical and heating,” says Hinson.

Roger Maxfield, a 30-year-old draftsman and current chairman of that council, notes that Loudon is home to Central NH Trailers, Environmental Soil Management and several restaurants and stores at Brookside Mall. “We’re not Concord or Manchester, but we have our share of businesses,” he says.

Several companies have been in town for years, such as Eastern Propane, cast urethane maker Plan Tech, Capitol Fire Protection, and Benevento Aggregates, formerly Fillmore Industries, which produces building materials including crushed stone, asphalt hot mix and ready mix concrete products.

Zoning for the future

But the push is underway to attract new business, with the creation of four Economic Revitalization Zones (ERZs) that offer businesses short-term tax credits for projects that improve infrastructure and create jobs.

The zones are located at Shaker Brook Park, International Drive, Staniels Road/Veterans Drive and downtown at Routes 106 and 129, called The Village. “One of the areas, the Shaker Brook Park area, has really flourished,” says Hinson, who says Nashua-based CPH Manufacturing chose to locate there.

Blanchette adds that Best Septic has built a building in Shaker Brook, a family machine shop is set to move in, and a proposed commercial building “will pretty much fill that industrial park.”

At Veterans Drive ERZ, Core & Main, which distributes water, sewer, storm sewer and fire protection products nationwide, has set up shop, as has FL Merrill Construction.

Enticing businesses to visit ERZs has the added benefit of introducing business owners to the city, Hinson says. “When you start looking at the schools, the community, go to a day old homes, you see it’s more than just a place to have a business. It’s also a good place to live,” he says.

A fifth ERZ is also under consideration in the northern part of town near the freeway, and talks were due to begin in November with neighboring landowners and other stakeholders to gauge interest in the idea.

Around the same time that ERZs were created, local authorities agreed to take advantage of the state’s Community Revitalization Tax Relief program, also known as RSA 79E, to encourage renovation projects in the village in the center of the city. The program encourages investment in town centers by allowing local authorities to provide tax relief at pre-rehabilitation value for a limited period, as long as the project provides a public benefit. A workshop in the spring will provide information for those interested in using the program, according to Tardiff.

The new Technical Review Board is another creation intended to attract business to the city. Where in the past a proponent would “come here with plans or just talk to the fire chief hoping to get something approved,” Hinson says, that person now appears before “a select group” of department heads and authorization officers. “It allows the developer to come in and answer questions and possibly eliminate the third or fourth visit…The idea was to simplify the process and make it more predictable.”

Take up challenges

But Loudon has its economic challenges: limited broadband availability, infrastructure and road issues, and a lack of affordable housing.

City officials are working with the Central NH Regional Planning Commission to see what can be done to expand broadband, which is not available in all parts of the city, using bailout funds American. “More and more people are telecommuting, and constant wifi is essential for you to work from home,” notes Hinson. Improved broadband, he adds, “will be a real game-changer for our community.” Tardiff says Loudon could join other nearby towns in exploring a regional approach to the problem.

Loudon has no water or sewer infrastructure, relying on private wells and septic systems, and Blanchette says that may need to change in the future. “If we were to further develop land for industrial park purposes, that’s something that should be considered,” he says.

Pavement improvements are another challenge, with Hinson pointing to intersections like Chichester Road and Route 106 as problematic and in need of an overhaul, possibly with a traffic light. Tardiff also sees a need for improvements to the busy Route 106.

Improving the trail system through the city is also desirable. According to Tardiff, these “quality of life” improvements also contribute to economic development.

City planners also want to attract a new bank to the city, as the departure of TD Bank has forced residents to travel to other communities to do their banking.

Like many NH communities, Loudon suffers from a lack of affordable housing, and Blanchette says the zoning and planning workshops focus on “what is the right type of affordable housing for Loudon, and how can we increase that availability while maintaining the small-town look and culture of Loudon. Housing is one of our biggest roadblocks,” he says. “We don’t have a lot of affordable housing for our young , so usually once they leave mom and dad’s house, there’s not a lot of opportunity for them to stay in the community.

Expected growth

Still, city officials are proud of recent economic achievements and predict further growth for their city.

Hinson plans an expansion of economic revitalization areas, the strengthening of existing businesses and the opening of additional businesses along Highway 106, as well as longer-term planning for infrastructure and roadway projects. Tardiff adds more investments in The Village to this list.

“There is still plenty of room for expansion in the commercial area along the 106 corridor and other areas,” Maxfield notes.

Tardiff says he has worked closely with Loudon town officials and planners, and looking to the future, “Loudon has reason to be confident.”

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