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In West Lebanon, Sununu Touts N.H.’s Allure for Business

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu visits biolotechnology company Novo Nordisk's Lebanon, N.H. location on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu greets guests and employees during his visit biolotechnology company Novo Nordisk's Lebanon, N.H. location on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nancy McLernon, president and CEO of the Organization for International Investment, praises New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu's trade efforts during his visit to biolotechnology company Novo Nordisk on Wednesday, June 14, 2017 in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, June 15, 2017

West Lebanon — New Hampshire is a great state for foreign companies to invest and operate businesses in, but practically none of them know it.

That is the belief of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who made his first major trip as governor to West Lebanon on Wednesday to declare before an audience of employees at Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk that when it comes to the state’s hospitable environment for business, “we got a great message and we got to push it.”

Sununu visited Novo Nordisk at the invitation of the company to tour its recently completed $30 million overhaul of its facility near the Lebanon Municipal Airport, where it manufactures N8-GP, a genetically engineered preventive medicine for people with Type A hemophilia. Novo Nordisk acquired the plant from Olympus Biotech in 2014 and has since made it one of the keystones of its U.S. operations.

After getting a guided tour of the West Lebanon plant by Vice President of Operations Peter Gariepy, Sununu, a pro-business Republican and himself a former environmental engineer, called the expanded 170,000-square-foot facility “phenomenal” and said that during his first five months as governor, he made it a priority to meet with out-of-state and overseas corporate executives to sell them on the virtues of state’s light tax burden for residents that makes it attractive for businesses.

“I was measuring the pipes,” he joked.

The youngest governor in the U.S. at 42 years old, Sununu said he was “astounded” to learn that no New Hampshire governor “in eight or nine years” had visited Quebec, for example, “a drive away” to discuss trade opportunities between the Canadian province and its neighboring state. Sununu related how, during a meeting at the Montreal Consulate’s Office, he spoke with foreign business people and government officials who did not know — and could scarcely comprehend when told — that the state does not have an income tax or sales tax.

“We sometimes take it for granted how good we have it here,” the governor said. But, he told the audience largely comprising Novo Nordisk workers, the state was nonetheless missing opportunities to attract foreign investment. “We have not maximized our potential,” he said.

Toward that goal, Sununu after the brief remarks told the Valley News that he is reorganizing the state’s economic development program and has included in his proposed budget the creation of a new Department of Business and Economic Development that will have staff specifically tasked to help out-of-state and foreign companies locate and invest in the state. Currently, those efforts are channeled through staff on the state’s Economic Development Advisory Council.

Sununu’s plan calls for restructuring New Hampshire’s Department of Resources and Economic Development by shifting the divisions of economic development, travel and tourism into a newly formed Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

That new department “will include a Council of Partner Agencies, consisting of representatives of various state economic development entities, such as the Community Development Finance Authority, Business Finance Authority, New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, and the Community College System, in order to foster better coordination of the state’s economic development efforts,” the governor’s spokesman explained via email. The divisions of Parks and Recreation and Forestry, currently part of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, are merging into the Department of Cultural Resources to form the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Also, Sununu pointed out that he is seeking an “additional level of tax cuts” in the state’s business profits tax, which currently stands at 8.2 percent. Although the BPT rate is scheduled to decrease to 7.9 percent by the end of 2018 — providing the state reaches certain revenue targets — Sununu said he would like to see it reduced even lower, to near 7 percent, although he couldn’t assure that would happen.

“It’s being debated right now” in legislative committee, he said.

Sununu said the state soon will be debuting digital billboards around Boston that will promote New Hampshire as a state friendly to business by asking: “Are you tired of your two-hour commute yet?”

He said that’s already spoken with executives from 127 different businesses — some via “webinars” — including 50 from foreign companies in places such as Israel, Japan, Taiwan, and China to talk up the advantages of operating in New Hampshire.

The Organization for International Investment, a Washington group that describes itself as advocating “for fair, non-discriminatory treatment of foreign-based companies and promotes policies that will encourage them to establish U.S. operations,” says that 42,500 workers in New Hampshire “are employed as a result of global investment,” ranking it No. 2 behind California in the share of its workforce that is employed through the U.S. interests of a foreign company.

OII claims that employees who work for foreign-controlled companies on average earn 30 percent more than the economy-wide average and that in the past five years the share of employees in New Hampshire who work for foreign companies has risen to 8.1 percent from 4 percent.

Nancy McLernon, chief executive of OII, effused about Sununu when she introduced him. “Chris Sununu ... gets it,” she said. “He understands global connections are more important than ever.”

In agreeing to visit Novo Nordisk for a ceremony to sign a governor’s proclamation that “reaffirm(s) New Hampshire’s commitment to ensuring a welcoming environment for investment from global companies,” Sununu also was helping to cement the company’s reputation as a jobs saver in the Upper Valley.

When Novo Nordisk acquired the former Olympus Biotech plant — the Danish company is the fifth biotech operator of the plant since 1993 — for $28.8 million in 2014, it immediately rehired 70 workers who had been laid off by Olympus. Since then, it has hired 70 more for a total of 140 employees.

N8-GP is in the third phase of its U.S. clinical trials, and the company hopes the Food and Drug Administration will approve it for commercial use this year or next. If approved, according to the Hemophilia Federation of America, N8-GP would join 10 other hemophilia drugs developed through genetic engineering that already are on the market.

Type A hemophilia, a gentic disorder, is the most common type of hemophilia with about 80 percent of the estimated 420,000 people worldwide who suffer from the disease falling into that category.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.