In Hurting N.H. Town, Cautious Optimism Ahead Of Obama’s Jobs Visit

Members of the New Hampshire Young Democrats watch President Obama give his State of the Union address at Martha's Exchange in Nashua, N.H. on Wednesday. (AP)

NASHUA, N.H. — Correction appended — President Obama’s White House-to-Main Street jobs tour stops in Nashua, N.H. next week. In advance of the visit, Morning Edition took to the road as the city, burdened with 7 percent unemployment, eagerly awaits Mr. Obama’s jobs proposals.

As a Republican mayor in a state that voted for President Obama in 2008, Donnalee Lozeau speaks from a centrist perspective. She expects the same moderate opinion from her constituents when Mr. Obama’s tour comes to town.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to are kind of cautiously optimistic about what the future might hold,” Lozeau told WBUR. “So (his visit) will probably be a mixed review from people.”

Lozeau, who is halfway through her first four-year term, said Nashua, like much of New Hampshire, has benefited from the Obama administration’s stimulus package. She said businesses are also encouraged by the president’s “message on jobs,” including the proposed tax credit for hiring.

Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau (Jennifer Donaldson for WBUR)

The mayor is also buoyed by Mr. Obama’s call for improved infrastructure, but she wonders where the funding for such projects will come from. “I think, great, does that mean you are going to help me with roads and bridges and buildings and things that I’m trying to do that I can’t ignore?” Lozeau said.

“I hear him talking about freezing spending and I’m not quite sure how that reconciles with the increase in infrastructure spending,” she explained. “Will we see issues surrounding that in the community where we will have to pick up some of the cost?”

And while one might expect the Republican mayor to come down against national health care reform, on this issue, too, she takes a middle-of-the-road stance.

“We have a manufacturing business here in Nashua that made it clear to us that they spent more on health care last year than they did on buying the product that they need to do their work,” Lozeau said. “And that’s not a good problem to have.”

The mayor is looking for a collaborative effort between local, state and federal governments. The overhaul does not have to be “bigger than it needs to be,” Lozeau said. “We just have to figure out how to find that right balance so that everyone has the opportunity to be covered.”

Lozeau was elected in November 2007, the month before the recession began. Within her city, she said, unemployment has noticeably surged over the last six months.

“We just have to figure out how to find that right balance so that everyone has the opportunity to be covered.”

– Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, on health care reform

“Do I notice a difference in this community, that people are hurting? I do,” Lozeau said. “And I think you’d be blind not to see it. Groups that work on jobs and focus on skills training are more active than they’ve been in the past.”

At the same time, the economic crunch at the state level forced New Hampshire to suspend revenue sharing for cities and towns last year, with Nashua standing to lose $3 million.

“Nashua is in great shape. We always close our books in the black and we have not faced significant deficits,” Lozeau said. “But the loss of state dollars, at a time when people really can’t afford to pay more in taxes, will be a big challenge.”

Click “Listen Now” to hear the full interview with Donnalee Lozeau.

Correction: The broadcast version of this story incorrectly stated the unemployment rate of Nashua. In December 2009, not seasonally adjusted, was 7 percent.

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