Insights from 3 decades of business in New Hampshire
New England Advisory Council member Nannu Nobis talks workforce challenges and the “can-do” in NH
Nannu Nobis is the founder of Nobis Engineering, which last year began its fourth decade in business in New Hampshire. Nobis is also a member of the New England Advisory Council at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Council members help shape policy by sharing their on-the-ground perspectives on regional economic conditions and trends. Bostonfed.org interviewed Nobis about the challenges and advantages of running a business in New Hampshire and why his work on the council matters.
New Hampshire is famously known as the “Live Free or Die” state—is the independence of spirit that motto conveys part of the reality of business there?
Well, I think that a can-do attitude is very apparent in New Hampshire, perhaps more so than in some of the bigger New England states. The business tax regime here is favorable, and that’s part of it, but I also think some of it is just cultural. Many of the businesses that operate in New Hampshire operate on the expectation that they will be able to get their project done without a whole heck of a lot of regulatory interference. It’s not that New Hampshire doesn’t have regulations, it absolutely does, but there is a perception among many business that their concerns can be heard. And the truth is we can often take our concerns to the regulators and say, “Look, we have a client who has these issues, and can you hear us out?” They will, and perhaps that’s a little easier to do in New Hampshire than in other states.
Your main office is in Concord, and you have a sizable Lowell office, but either way you’re competing for talent with firms in the Greater Boston area. Is that a challenge?
A lot of the employees we hire in New Hampshire are making a lifestyle choice. They don’t want to deal with congestion, and parking, and housing costs, and they want good schools and easy access to the outdoors. But there are other things we can’t offer. Say they want an urban lifestyle, where they don’t want a car, they don’t care much about home ownership, they just want to be in the middle of things. We can’t compete with that. So sometimes we have to perform a little bit of jujitsu, as they say: You don’t take on an opponent in his area of strength! So we allow a lot of flexibility in their work hours and where they can work from. We also offer staff the opportunity to work on multiple types of projects. Exposure to a range of projects is always good for your career, especially if you’re younger, so you don’t get locked into one thing. That’s something not a lot of firms who play in our sandbox can offer.
What unique traits do you think you bring to the council?
The way I view my role on the New England Advisory Council is first to provide the council with the perspective of a small business. I can also give the council a perspective from a business that is not in manufacturing and not in retail. In general, I feel that the council offers the Boston Fed leadership an opportunity to see what is happening with small businesses that may not be apparent when you read the front page of The Wall Street Journal. I mean, everybody knows what’s happening with Google, everybody knows what’s happening with Boeing, but not many people know what’s happening on Main Street, and we can bring that perspective. The businesses on the council represent an incredibly large slice of the economy.
Most of the council members you meet with represent different sectors, some vastly different from engineering, for instance. Do you find you still learn from each other?
The council offers a chance for healthy business alliances. We haven’t done business with anyone on the council, but we’ve shared with people, and we’ve learned from some other council members. There is a fabric with business, that if you look closely enough, the thread of your own business is connected at some stage with the thread of another. They’re possibly distinctly different businesses, but in some fashion, in some measure, it’s connected. The council offers me an opportunity to explore some of those connections.