Chartered as Derryfield in 1751, a decade after New Hampshire separated from Massachusetts, the small town at the Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River was renamed in 1810 after Manchester, England, the first industrialized city. As a manufacturing center—it was home to, among other businesses, Mill No. 11, the largest cotton mill in the world—the city attracted immigrants from around the globe. Even today, 70 languages are spoken in the local school district.
Manchester’s industrial roots remain evident in the city’s Victorian-style mill buildings, but its economy has moved away from manufacturing. As the largest city north of Boston, and with a central location in northern New England, Manchester has become a regional healthcare and education hub. In 2009, CNNMoney.com ranked it the 13th best U.S. city to live and launch a business in, and Kiplinger named it the nation’s second-most-tax-friendly city.
The recession has slowed development somewhat, but for the most part, the city has fared well during the downturn. “I think it is in part due to our [economic] diversity and Yankee conservatism,” says Chris Wellington, a marketing specialist in the city’s economic development office. Manchester officials urge public-private partnerships to fund large developments, keeping most projects—such as the multiphase River’s Edge development—manageable and on track.
“In order for development to happen, it must be a project that can stand on its own financially,” notes Barry Brensinger, CEO of local firm Lavallee Brensinger Architects. “That can be a good thing, but it’s a challenge right now.” With all levels of government cutting back, fewer projects are under way. But there also are fewer in financial trouble, meaning that “ManchVegas,” as locals call it, has largely avoided the fate of Las Vegas and other cities that saw numerous speculative developments die on the vine.
2009 population: 110,000, with 73,389 employed in-town.
February 2010 vacancy: 17.7%; average asking rate: $16.84/s.f.
Median home sale price, December 2009: $208,000.
• Proximity to New England hub cities • No sales or income tax
• Educated workforce
• Depressed housing market • Potential glut of commercial space
• General economic malaise
“Manchester has a lot of self-confidence, despite the times,” says Lavallee Brensinger Architects’ Barry Brensinger. “Improvements bring confidence in the future, and there’s a general sense of optimism. A number of people are working on some interesting projects.”