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Staff photo by DON HIMSEL


President Barack Obama speaks at Manchester Central High School in November. The White House confirmed Friday that the president will visit Nashua on Thursday.
Saturday, February 25, 2012

Business leaders hope Obama will address ways to help struggling employers when he visits Nashua next week

NASHUA – President Barack Obama will arrive in Nashua next week to find a mix of support and skepticism from across the city, community members said.

White House officials announced Friday that Obama, who will be in a fight for re-election in the fall with the eventual Republican nominee, is scheduled to visit Nashua on Thursday, marking his second Gate City visit in three years in office.

An administration spokesman offered few details about exact time or location of the visit, revealing only that it’s a formal White House visit, not a campaign stop. But he did say the president will be speaking about the economy, a topic ripe for conversation around the region, local leaders said.

“It’s always an honor to have the president come visit our city,” Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said Friday. “I know that our business community … is going to be very interested in his comments.”

“There’s a lot we’d like to hear from the president,” said Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce. “The mood within the business community continues to be one of concern over the economy and the state of affairs nationally.”

The last time Obama visited the Gate City, he arrived to a different economic climate.

In February 2010, when the president addressed a packed house at Nashua High School North, it was the height of the recession. Nationally, the unemployment rate was nearing 10 percent, and in New Hampshire, Obama’s approval rating had reached a low of 48 percent, according to local polls.

Two years later, the economy is showing signs of life with the unemployment rate dropping steadily. The president’s New Hampshire approval ratings are rising in turn, reaching an 18-month high of 51, according to polls released earlier this month by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

“His poll numbers are up, his job numbers are falling. There’s a lot he can play off of here,” said Dean Spiliotes, a political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University.

After months of Republican candidates trekking across New Hampshire leading up to last month’s GOP primary, local Obama volunteers have already held several phone banks and other organizing events over recent weeks.

Obama’s appearance is likely to help mobilize even more supporters, said Sonia Prince, a volunteer organizer from Nashua.

“He will definitely bring some energy,” Prince said. “There’s no doubt about.”

Still, as the November election approaches, members of the local business community remain fraught with questions they want to see answered.

Despite rising employment rates, insurance costs and enterprise taxes continue to suffocate small businesses around the area, said Sy Mahfuz, owner of the Persian Rug Gallery on Main Street.

Obama recently released a business tax reform plan that could be the subject of his Nashua speech, some analysts said.

“The small-business person is getting clobbered,” Mahfuz said. “He needs to address that.”

Further, the federal health care reform law, set to go into effect in 2014, promises to leave employers struggling to meet rising insurance costs, said Tom Weldon, a principal at Eaton Berube Insurance in Nashua.

“The Affordable Care Act did many good things, but it didn’t address affordable care,” said Weldon, president of the New Hampshire Association of Health Underwriters.

“I’d like to know what is going to create affordable health care. How are businesses going to afford this?”

Many unknowns remain about the president’s visit. White House officials said they likely won’t announce details until early next week. In the meantime, local officials are starting to make arrangements.

“It’s great that he’s coming here, but there’s always a lot to do. Hopefully, it won’t be too bad this time,” Lozeau said with a laugh. “There’s just an unavoidable expense.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.