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CEDS Interview on the Workforce with Darren Winham

Darren Winham is the Economic Development Director of the town of Exeter, NH.

Darren Winham

This spring, REDC sat down with Darren Winham, Economic Development Director with the town of Exeter, and discussed the challenges local employers and employees face in today’s economy.

REDC: What are the biggest barriers for an employer to retain a quality workforce?

Darren: The biggest barrier is the volume of humans right now. And there's so much opportunity. It's an overabundance of opportunity.

REDC: How does the current labor shortage impact the economic development in our region?

Darren: The impacts of the labor shortage on economic development for the seacoast are dire. There are many companies of every industry that cannot find workers. For example, there's a company in Hampton that would make a million more dollars a month if they could hire 100 workers, which they want to do but can't because the workers aren’t there.

REDC: What do you think the economic development priority should be for the region?

Darren: The economic development priority for the region should be affordable housing. If we can solve that problem, then we will increase the amount of people that are here, the workers, and then companies [will have a larger pool of workers to choose from].

It's a tremendous issue [that impacts our entire region]. But we have other communities in our region that have no interest in creating affordable housing, no interest in creating zoning that is favorable, no interest in accepting state incentives, and that's a problem. The businesses [need to speak up at land use board meetings] in their communities.

REDC: How does the current state of the region's workforce impact a municipality's ability to attract new businesses?

Darren: In Exeter’s case, we're in really good shape. The phone rings all the time, and as long as we can get to a good price, [new businesses move into Exeter]. The problem that we're having isn't attracting businesses, it's attracting workers. We are having such trouble hiring like every other municipality. We are going to find businesses that will leave because they can't find workers.

What we're seeing is businesses don't stay open as long or as many days if they're retail or restaurants. Manufacturers are having trouble, and they're competing with each other [for employees]. They're trying to throw money at the problem, and that's not working either, because there just isn't the workforce that we hope there would be.

Town Offices of Exeter, NH.

REDC: Do businesses come to the town offices to talk about trying to attract workers?

Darren: Businesses come to me, absolutely, and ask me to assist them in recruitment and retention.

[I am part of] the Seacoast Economic Development stakeholders. We were able to secure $50,000 in funding from the NH BEA, and with part of that money, we hired SoHo Creative Studio out of Portsmouth. They are trying to figure out what the problem is and create best practices for companies on the Seacoast to attract and retain workers. When that firm's work is done, this conversation will be a lot easier because we'll have, I think, a lot of answers.

REDC: Do you have examples of some employers that you're working with that had success with retention or attraction? What are they doing?

Darren: That's one of the exact questions we asked Soho Creative to investigate. So, when that product is here, I think we'll have a much better idea. Some companies are increasing pay, some companies are letting people work from home. Some companies are changing hours; they're being more flexible.

Note: the products that we're discussing will come from SoHo Creative Studio in June 2023, and will be free and available at REDC, at town of Exeter website, at all the communities that were involved in it.

REDC's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS)

This interview took place in March 2023 for the purpose of documenting first-hand perspectives on issues that present the largest obstacles to continued economic growth in our region. REDC's 2023 CEDS Update will be available for free electronically on our CEDS page in late June, 2023.

Part of this interview will be available to watch in a video on REDC's YouTube channel in late June, 2023.


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