Dec. 07--Forum highlights 'wish list' for Manchester Millyard
By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader
December 06. 2017 9:52PM
A person walks down Commercial Street past Millie the mill girl in Manchester's Millyard.
-- Additional housing options. More entertainment venues. And -- of course -- more parking.
More than 160 people attended a "Millyard Forum" Wednesday afternoon at Oracle + Dyn on Dow Street to discuss the "energy" and atmosphere in the Millyard, the challenges employers face recruiting talent to the area, and their "wish list" for the area. The forum was presented by Citizens Bank and hosted by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mike Skelton.
We were very excited to host an event like this," said Skelton. "We wanted to have an event about the Millyard, and hold it in the Millyard, to draw in members of this workforce and people living in the city. To have over 160 people sign up to attend is a real indicator of the energy that is here in the Millyard now, and there's that sense that there is so much potential that our people are realizing we have that we need to capture and promote over the next few years."
The forum featured comments from two executives with companies in the Millyard who are also products of Manchester public schools -- Kyle York, general manager and vice president at Oracle + Dyn, and Heather Lavoie, chief strategy officer for Geneia, a health care tech company.
When asked to comment on some of the benefits of being located in the Millyard, York and Lavoie repeatedly referenced the "energy" present among workers there.
"People want to be around people who talk like they do -- talking about writing code around the hot dog stand," said York. "You want to be around like-minded people. Energy matters to people."
"They want to be around other companies," said Lavoie. "Innovation comes from bumping into someone else."
York said his company has struggled a bit selling the idea of moving to Manchester, due to concerns over issues like the opioid crisis.
"We can sell the New Hampshire advantage," said York. "But as far as Manchester itself, I'm not sure we've been as successful as we'd like with that."
York said he would like to see more entertainment options near the Millyard, such bowling centers or movie theaters. He also would like to see the area's proximity to the Millyard used to the city's advantage.
"I haven't been to many cities that take zero advantage of a river," said York. "I don't just mean the pretty view. Imagine eating on the river, or having a beer by the river listening to music on the river. You have such a beautiful asset right here, and it's so not taken advantage of. That's a real miss by decades and decades of city leadership."
"I would love to see more spaces where people can congregate," said Lavoie. "Everything is located on Elm Street. Having a better connection to Elm Street in terms of walkability would help, but more places to congregate here in the Millyard will help as well." Lavoie also mentioned the importance of having more health and fitness related opportunities in the Millyard to "get people out of the buildings."
Manchester mayor-elect Joyce Craig said she was impressed by the turnout and the discussion.
"I think this is really exciting, seeing so many people here," said Craig. "The people speaking on the stage are graduates of Manchester public high schools, speaking on how they went away, brought their businesses back here, and the opportunities we have here in the Millyard. There's a lot of energy, and a lot of people who are really encouraged who believe that we can do better and make Manchester stronger."
During a networking session following the forum, several attendees mentioned work done in Concord -- where millions spent on narrowing Main Street and widening sidewalks is helping to draw new visitors and 170 planned or completed apartments and condos -- as something they would like to see done in Manchester.
Concord spent $13.2 million -- including $7.5 million in city funds -- on adding benches, widening sidewalks and reducing the number of street lanes from four to two. The project has served as a catalyst for developers to propose 170 new housing units, including about 30 already completed.
"Every city has a differentiator," said York. "The Millyard is our differentiator. It has to be our anchor. There is real opportunity here."