Seacoast Executives, Commerce Secretary Talk About Visa Workers, COVID Funding, Climate Change
Tourism and Seacoast business leaders want federal officials to approve more foreign visa and economic aid workers to support what they hope will be a busy summer as the pandemic ends.
They spoke at a roundtable Monday in Hampton Beach with US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Raimondo, the former governor of Rhode Island, was on her first official trip as US Secretary of Commerce. She asked what the Seacoast expects from the latest round of funding for the pandemic stimulus and the jobs and infrastructure plan proposed by President Biden.
New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association CEO Mike Somers said he was optimistic for small tourism businesses that have made it through the pandemic. But he said continued federal support – for visa workers and other aids – will be crucial in the coming months.
“Either way we can support our small businesses – whether it’s offsetting the costs they’ve incurred or other things, but just helping them get through it,” he said. “If we can get to the week of July 4th or maybe a little further, I think everyone who gets there, they got there.”
Raimondo said the recent US bailout should help small tourism businesses, as previous COVID aid programs such as the CARES Act have done. Somers said he didn’t think New Hampshire officials had yet determined what new funding would be available for his industry.
“Far be it from me to get in the middle of any of your policies,” Raimondo told Somers. “However, I would just like to stress for you that the intention of Congress was that this is what the money is used for. So if you had to push for that, I think you’d be on a solid footing.
Somers was among several stakeholders concerned about delays in approving new workers for J-1 and H-2B visas, which the Seacoast and other tourism-oriented regions rely heavily on during peak seasons.
Shaheen said the problem stems from challenges related to COVID in the countries of origin of potential seasonal workers and a Trump-era moratorium on the processing of new visas that was lifted just a few weeks ago.
“I think there is an interest… that if we can speed up this processing, it would help a lot,” Shaheen told reporters after the roundtable. “Anything we can do to help reduce the backlog of employers here on the Sea Coast and across New Hampshire trying to recruit workers is really important.”
National tourism director Lori Harnois said that workforce issues aside, she believes New Hampshire is in a good position to have a successful summer as more people get vaccinated and start to travel again. On the one hand, she said the state is not too dependent on arriving visitors.
“If we can get to the fourth week of July or maybe a little further, I think everyone who gets there has done it.” –Mike Somers, NH Lodging & Restaurant Association
“We’re trying, in our marketing efforts, to focus on road trips that are in our typical core markets, which would be New England and New York State, but we’re also expanding beyond that into a 600 mile radius, “she said.
Harnois said the state hopes to encourage tourists to spread more among all New Hampshire attractions in order to avoid the congestion and COVID risks that some popular sites, like Mount Major in the Lake District, have suffered. last summer.
Rye State Senator Tom Sherman, who is also a medical doctor, said he hopes marketing and government funding will continue to focus on public health and COVID safety even as tourism increases .
“I just wanted to put in place a hold for… as we reopen the beach, the possibility for businesses to be fully supported with masking, social distancing, with all the signage,” he said. “Because without that, of course, we’re going to see it all close again.”
Raimondo and some local officials said they also consider threats from climate change in planning for future economic growth on the coast.
Former Senator Nancy Stiles heads the Hampton Beach area commission. She said she hoped Biden’s $ 2 trillion infrastructure bill could help prepare the Highway 1A corridor for rising seas and heavier rainfall, which scientists predict on the coastline and beyond in a warmer world.
Stiles told Raimondo that New Hampshire needs more than four times the funding it currently has to upgrade Route 1A, especially its drainage systems, in the years to come.
“A lot of what you’re talking about is infrastructure – parks, bike paths, trails, roundabouts, stormwater,” Raimondo said. “We agree, and that’s why we need to get this plan passed.”
“I tried to tie that into the economy as best I could,” Stiles said of his concerns about Route 1A.
Raimondo replied: “It’s the economy – absolutely.”
To reduce emissions and mitigate the warming trend, Raimondo said she believes the country can step up offshore wind power in the Gulf of Maine without harming the region’s fisheries.
She was asked about this by David Goethel, a Seabrook-based commercial fisherman and member of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a fisheries advocacy group concerned about wind growth.
Raimondo said she was proud of how Rhode Island worked with its fishing industry to build what is currently the only wind farm nationwide, Block Island Wind.
“They were very worried, like you, about what would happen to fish migration patterns when you put the turbines in the middle of the ocean,” she said. the data. “
The Biden administration wants to give the green light to 30 gigawatts of wind in U.S. coastal waters over the next nine years. This is equivalent to the power of approximately 25 Seabrook nuclear power plants.
The issuance of offshore wind permits is overseen by the Interior Ministry, but Raimondo’s Commerce Department is responsible for regulating fisheries, marine science, and many climate programs.
She said other climate change responses under Biden’s clean technology goals and infrastructure package could also be big job creators for regions like Seacoast.
The infrastructure bill also includes money for affordable housing development, which Portsmouth City Manager Karen Conard told Raimondo should be a priority.