By David A. Juvet and David Creer
The public’s attention is firmly focused on state and national elections which are a little more than three weeks away. So it’s easy for things to “slip through” without a great deal of scrutiny or commentary, including things that could profoundly impact New Hampshire’s economy and businesses struggling to come back from pandemic-induced challenges.
For example, a legislatively created Commission to Study the Environmental and Health Effects of Evolving 5G Technology (on which BIA has a seat) has been meeting since the spring to review safety concerns related to 5G telecommunications. Although scientific consensus around the globe is that there are no known health risks from radio frequency at the low levels embedded in 5G technology and approved for everyday consumer use, and respected establishments like the World Health Organization, American Cancer Society, and US Food and Drug Administration have publicly concluded that the weak RF signals from base stations [cell towers] and wireless networks will not cause adverse health effects, fears about 5G technology persist.
The Commission to Study the Environmental and Health Effects of Evolving 5G Technology has yet to release its findings and recommendations, but early drafts indicate that a majority of those on the commission would like to slow, or stop, deploying this new technology in New Hampshire. BIA strongly disagrees. The safety of 5G is well-documented. Furthermore, the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the world, are embracing 5G technology because it’s much faster and more reliable than 4G, which most of us currently use. If New Hampshire is serious about competing for technology and advanced manufacturing jobs, creating roadblocks to 5G technology is exactly the wrong move. The commission is scheduled to release its final report soon. BIA will continue to forcefully advocate for implementation of 5G technology in New Hampshire.
Another issue that has not received much public attention involves the system benefits charge (SBC). This is a fee added to your electricity bill to fund energy efficiency projects in the state. A 2021-2023 energy efficiency plan was recently submitted to the Public Utilities Commission for approval. The plan was developed and recently approved by the Energy Efficiency & Sustainable Energy Board (EESE Board). The EESE Board was created by the New Hampshire legislature “to promote and coordinate energy efficiency, demand response, and sustainable energy programs in the state.” Their plan includes ramped-up efforts to increase energy efficiency through large increases in SBC fees for commercial and industrial ratepayers for each of the next three years.
SBC fees will increase from the current rate of 0.74 cents per kilowatt hour to 2.43 cents in the largest utility service area (Eversource [fees vary by each utility’s territory]). While a 1.7 cent increase may not seem all that significant, it represents a whopping 227% increase from today’s SBC. For manufacturers, hospitals, college campuses, large office complexes, and others, this would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra energy costs. Even smaller enterprises will feel the pinch in this lethargic economy.
BIA supports an “all of the above” approach to keep energy costs low and maintain the reliability of the electric grid. This includes conservation, efficiency, renewable sources, natural gas, oil and coal when necessary to prevent blackouts, and nuclear energy. We support funding energy efficiency through the SBC, but not at the dramatically higher levels proposed by the EESE Board. New Hampshire’s electrical energy prices are currently 44% higher than the national average, according to the US Energy Information Administration. At a time when all enterprises are working to reduce costs to survive the COVID-19 economy, substantially increasing New Hampshire’s electricity costs further is misguided.
Policy makers must understand that businesses, particularly manufacturers which drive New Hampshire’s economy with superior jobs and economic stimulus more pronounced than any other sector, have options about where to locate and where to grow. Gone are the days when manufacturers were rooted in place by buildings and equipment. All things being equal, high electrical energy costs and growing concerns about electric grid reliability often make other locations around the country more attractive than New Hampshire— places like Texas, the Carolinas, and Virginia.
These two matters— potentially slowing or stopping deployment of 5G technology in New Hampshire and dramatically increasing electricity costs for manufacturers and other high energy users — represent unfortunate public policy decisions that will adversely affect employers of all shapes and sizes at a very challenging time for them. As the only statewide, broad-based business advocate in New Hampshire, BIA will be working hard to change the trajectory of these two issues to benefit businesses, not harm them.
By Sara Colson
This past weekend, I got together with friends. Anyone else have a small panic attack over those words?! I did, despite knowing the visits were virtual! Well, just as we’ve begun to check in with our friends and family this way, so do we need to check in on our business associates... Colleagues, clients, those that have become part of our extended network and work family over the years. We must continue to connect through all of this, not only to maintain these relationships so they’ll continue to be strong when we get to the other side of all this but also to offer support wherever we can.
In a time when everyone is operating in survival mode, outreach may be met with silence. Calls go unanswered, emails are not responded to… The important thing is that we’re all trying. No response doesn’t mean that the message wasn’t received, it just means that the person on the receiving end isn’t in a position to respond at that very moment. In my experience, those that do respond are enormously grateful for the contact.
Here are some ideas for connecting with those in your professional circle:
It’s sometimes difficult to believe that there really will be an end to what we’re currently experiencing. We have only a vague sense of when it will all go back to “normal.” In the meantime, we’re all trying our best to navigate our own personal stressors (have the kids seriously only been home for five weeks?), and anything that can provide a sense of normalcy and hope will come as a welcome relief.
Make it a point to reach out. Maybe share some virtual chocolate. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed.
Speaking of reaching out - wondering about a great way to connect with other businesses? Join the BIA.
By: David Creer
We’ve all been social distancing for a few weeks now, encouraged to stay home whenever possible. Being cooped up in your house all day can be emotionally taxing. You might start feeling like some of the residents in Utqiagvik, Alaska (No, I don’t know how to pronounce it, either) where the sun doesn’t rise for over two months in winter. I started to feel the cabin fever set in. To prevent myself from turning into Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I had to do something.
The first mistake I made was when I started sleeping in. I used to always think my 30- to 40-minute commute was a burden. I used to daydream in traffic about the day they would finally invent the teleporter without having the plot of The Fly as a consequence. When I first started working from home, I thought, “Without that extra time I need to get ready and drive into work, I can get extra sleep!” But waking up five minutes before I started work had me feeling more tired and less productive during my workday.
Without my commute, I’ve lost that early morning calm-before-the-storm. I now realize how much I need that commute, the opportunity to relax before the chaos of the workday began. I used the time to eat, catch up on podcasts, check out my news feed, or to just finally wake up (I never got into coffee and no one has ever mistaken me for a “morning person”). It was my time to charge my battery for the day.
So I made a change. Although I suppose it’s more accurate to say I went back to my old ways. I set my alarm back to its normal time. I get up and get ready for the day, listen to a podcast while I eat breakfast, go through my news feed, and just generally relax before turning my computer on for the day. Now I feel as awake and productive when I start work as when I drove in.
The next mistake I noticed when starting to work from home was the immense pressure I felt to maintain my productivity. I think it’s natural to believe that work productivity will decrease as people work from home. There are just so many distractions – spouses, kids, pets, an eternity of memes on the internet. And sure, it's easy to get pulled away by these distractions of varying importance.
But remember that your workplace wasn’t completely free of distractions, either. Your coworker just had a baby? Say goodbye to about 20 minutes of your day looking at pictures. Big game last night? Probably going to spend five minutes talking about the blind referees with everyone who walks by your desk. Your favorite TV show ended with less than ideal results (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones)? Could be half your morning, depending on how atrocious the offense and number of coworkers that disagree with your opinion.
The point here is that any normal human can only work for so long without a break. We all take breaks at work: a few minutes to read a news article, grab a snack, say hello to our cubicle neighbor or remind him that it's not cool to pretend he’s the drummer from Iron Butterfly on his desk.
The pressure I felt to be productive 100% of the workday is not only unrealistic, but it's also not how I work in a normal workday in a normal work environment. I had to remember not to feel guilty about taking that break to check my email, read my news feed, or maybe even read a Wikipedia page on sasquatch (I’m a curious person, don’t judge me).
The key here is not to take too many breaks or breaks that are too long. Work until you feel like you need a short break, take it, and then go back to work. Don’t feel guilty about it. You’re allowing your brain to reset so that the next hour of work will be even more productive. Obviously, if something is time-sensitive it needs to be done. But it is helpful to treat your day like it’s a normal workday, just a different office.
The “too long; didn’t read” version is quite simple. While our lives have been drastically changed by the COVID-19 virus and the need to stay home, we don’t have to act like we are staying at home. Get up at a normal time, get ready like normal (although you could probably ditch the suit for most days), and work like normal. The end result? You may just feel a little more normal. Well, as normal as you ever were, anyway.
By: Sara Colson
Welcome to 2020… The Year of Remote Learning, and of Stay at Home Orders! A winning combination indeed. As someone who started my career as a high school math teacher, and went on to run a small business out of my basement when my kids were small, I feel like I should be better equipped for this. After all, I know how to teach students who don’t want to learn, and how to ignore my children screaming in the background as I work.
But I’ve never had to do both at the same time.
As a working mother of four children - ages 9, 10, 11, and 13 - let me just describe “working from home” in 2020:
It looks like madness. Like chaos. Like an hours-old, cold cup of coffee, sitting sadly abandoned on my makeshift desk.
It sounds like screeches of delight when the kids get to see their friends in Google Chat, and of frustration when they don’t know how to do some bizarre version of new math that not even mom can help with (when did math change?!)
It smells like that hours-old cup of coffee. And dog. And pre-teens who have lost all sense of time and self-awareness and have stopped showering for some godforsaken reason.
It tastes like chocolate. Lots and lots and lots of chocolate. And not nearly enough coffee.
Like many of you, I am in uncharted territory right now. Stay at home orders mean that even sending the kids to a friend’s house – or, heaven forbid, the grandparents – for a few hours, is completely off the table. So they stay home. They ask for snacks. Lots of snacks. They interrupt meetings. They have questions. Lots of questions. Most of the time the answer is “no,” but every once in a while it has something to do with science or history and seems fairly legit.
Meanwhile, I work. I send emails, answer calls, take part in Zoom conferences… Oh so many Zoom conferences… And I’ll admit, working from home does have its perks. I can wear yoga pants and sweatshirts every day. I have a dog at my feet and a cat on my lap at all times. The commute is lovely.
But that whole “work/life balance” thing that people used to talk about in The Before Time…? Gone.
What’s a working parent to do? How on earth do we get through this current situation without losing our jobs, our sanity, our will to live? How do we ensure that all our deadlines are being met, while simultaneously overseeing our children’s education, and hoping that they aren’t murdering each other in the next room while we’re on a conference call?
Short answer: We don’t.
We just have to do the best we can, and try not to beat ourselves up too much when things don’t work out perfectly. Because they won’t. The 9-year-old will barge in and ask to play on the Xbox when you’re on a call with your boss. The dog will start barking at a squirrel outside at the exact moment you unmute your phone to say something on a virtual conference. The normal 9 to 5 routine will be thrown out the window.
The good news? We’re all in this together. We’re all learning as we go. We’re all being patient with one another as we try to juggle more than most of us have ever had to juggle before. We’re getting savvy with technology, embracing ways of communicating with one another that just a few short weeks ago we never would have imagined we were capable of.
My colleagues and I are no exception: We’re getting better at using social media. We started using Slack to send messages (one 60-year-old member of our team makes us laugh daily when he refers to it as “Slacker”). We’ve learned to use Zoom, mastering the conference call on Day One, then moving quickly on to scheduling our first series of webinars. And for those of us who are parents, Google Classroom has become our new best friend.
The laughs we share while learning how to navigate it all is probably a far better form of team building than any of the carefully planned exercises that our leaders have scheduled over the years. We’re learning. We’re adapting. We’re growing by leaps and bounds, despite the world grinding to a halt around us. And – surprisingly – it’s bringing us together in new and unexpected ways.
In the end, it seems that 2020 is teaching us just how nimble and resilient we really are.