Former chamber president talks about ‘skills gap’

AMHERST – After 13 years working in community development and revitalization in the Souhegan Valley, Tracy Hutchins has left the area to do similar work in New Hampshire’s Upper Valley.

Hutchins’ last day as president of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce was April 28, and Monday she started as new executive director of the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Souhegan chamber covers 11 towns and the Hanover chamber also covers Hanover’s surrounding area and into Vermont.

Both organizations deal with similar challenges, she says, especially the high cost of doing business in New Hampshire and a workforce that isn’t fulfilling the needs of businesses. In manufacturing, automotive, construction and retail, there are more jobs available than there are trained people to fill them.

The good news is that business is good, but without enough workers they can’t grow, she said. “Members ask all the time – where can I find people?”

It’s a problem with many causes, she said – an aging population, the high cost of living, lack of public transportation and young people leaving college with a heavy burden of debt.

“No one has a magic bullet,” she said.

But on the whole, the economy is good. Not a lot of houses are being built, but many people are renovating their homes. Electricians, plumbers and other tradespeople are doing well, but again, the lack of employees is a limiting factor.”

She sold her Amherst home after one day on the market and bought a log house on 23 acres in Orange.

A combination of personal and professional reasons prompted her to take the new job and move. Her two daughters have been launched into the world, and her parents are moving to nearby White River Junction, Vt.

Hutchins spent three years as Chamber president and before that, six years as head of the Milford Improvement Team (formerly DO-IT) and four years as the Wilton Main Street director.

“This has been a wonderful job. I have been so fortunate to have worked with the three organizations,” she said during an interview on her final day in her Amherst office.

The Souhegan Valley of today is much different from the one she moved to in 1989.

“Route 101A was completely different. There were chicken coops and farmland. The Oval hadn’t been renovated. Some say 101A is terrible, but there are a lot of services. People don’t realize how hard retail is. It’s your whole life,” Hutchins said.

Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-

Hitchcock Medical Center give Hanover a lot of its character, and the town has a much bigger downtown than Milford or Wilton. But one thing seems to be a constant in any downtown – lack of parking.

Hanover’s downtown streets are metered, and there’s a parking garage where even the Chamber director has to get on a waiting list and then pay about $150 a month for a space that’s three blocks from the office.

In a press release, Hanover chamber board director Tom Rucinski welcomed Hutchins to the Upper Valley and said she was chosen after an extensive nationwide search.

The Souhegan chamber is working on its second round of interviews for Hutchins’ replacement, said Tina Smith, chairwoman of the board of directors.

“Tracy was really a great asset and contributed much” to the organization, she said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or