Enterprise Summer 2023

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Read the latest in promotions, awards and company expansions.


6 SHIF TING SCHEDULE In an effort to appeal to wider applicant pool, business tries a four-day week.


Three Claremont residents share what led them to leap into going it on their own.


Ar tificial intelligence, like ChatGPT, is changing the way we do business.


Commercial, industrial real estate markets stay steady in Upper Valley


One-year-old bonsai trees fill a table at Brandon Bes serer ’s home in Claremont .

COVER PHOTOGRAPH: Working on a job site for Houseseal Construction in Woodstock, Vt. Connor Gilding enjoys the four-day workweek the company is trying. PHOTOGRAPHS BY VALLEY NEWS / JENNIFER HAUCK AND ALEX DRIEHAUS (REPORT FOR AMERICA)

2Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
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Upper Valley Business Notes

New employees and promotions

Jim Gardner, has joined ReArch Company, a development, construction and property managementbusiness thathas officesin Lebanonand South Burlington,Vt., asa seniorestimator. Gardner, who has worked in the field for 40 years, will helplead ReArch’sestimating departmentand work with field teams.

Tim Allenhas joined Ledyard NationalBank in Hanover as a senior financial advisor within the Ledyard FinancialAdvisors division.Allen previouslyworked atN.H. TrustFinancial Advisorsand Bar Harbor Wealth Management.

SusanRenaud, aseniorfinancial advisorat Ledyard Financial Advisors, has been named strategy andbusiness transitionplanning director atthe Hanover-basedbusiness.JeffTrombly, asenior portfolio manager, hasbeen named Medicare insurancespecialist. Bothemployees willcombine their new positions with their current roles.

J. VioletGannon, has beenhired asthe founding directorof institutional advancementat the Greenway Institute,a WhiteRiver Junction-based nonprofit educational organization focused on sustainable andequitable engineeringand entrepreneurship. Gannonpreviously servedas executivedirectorof theManchesterCommunityLibrary in Vermont.

DuBois & King, an employee-owned ESOP consulting, planning and engineering company, has electedMelissaStephenand GuyRouelletoserve on its board of directors.

New businesses

Granite StatePacking hasreopened theold North Country Smokehouse facility on 471 Sullivan St., inClaremont, as acooperative fee-for-service meatprocessor, ownedjointly byboth theemployees and the customers.

The Works Café, aKeene-based fast casual chain,hasopeneda locationatDartmouthHitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

Damian Petry Gutter Solutions, in New London, has beenpurchased by AhoSeamless Gutters, whichhasoffices inManchester,Nashuaand Leominster, Mass.


Chrisand CortneyKeene,whoown KeenePerspectives in Hartford, which provides early intervention services for children with autism and other neurodiverse profiles, were selectedas the 2023 VermontSmall BusinessPersons ofthe Yearby the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Colleen O’Neill,of Cornish,whoownsLangwoodTree FarminCornishand Plainfield,has been named New Hampshire’s Outstanding Tree

Farmer of the Year for 2023 by the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

Leo Maslan, of Cornish, is the recipient of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association’s Kendall Norcott Award, which honors members for their service and dedication to the organization.


TheUpperValley BusinessAllianceawarded fourUpper Valleybusinessownersa SmallBusiness Grant for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs, sponsoredby HyperthermAssociates andDartmouth College’sTuck School ofBusiness. The winners included:Chantal Holmes, theowner of theLebanon-based EYEGAZER,whichfocuses oneyelashextensions, tintingandbrowwaxing and lamination; MariaRosario L. BarsolaCanaveral, the owner ofCanaveral Candles, a West Lebanon-based coconutsoy candles business; AnnaAdachi-Mejia, the ownerof Norwichbased AdachiLabs, LLC,which providesbusinessand professionalcoaching consultation;and Raven Lovelock, the ownerof Enfield-based Curated Experiences by Raven Lovelock, which provides experiencecurating andtravel planningfor BIPOC individuals.

Editor ’s note: Submit business announcements viavnews.com/Reader-Ser vices/Contribute/Submit-a-Business-Announcement.

4Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
COURTESY Colleen O’Neill of Langwood Farm in Cornish and Plainfield has won New Hampshire’s Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award for 2023.

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‘So far it is working really well’

Bath, N.H., construction firm embraces four-day work week

In the competition for a shrinking labor pool, some employers have added flexible work hours and work-from-home options in hopes of standing out among potential employees.

Remote work accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic when many employees were forced to stay out of the office. Although the pandemic is

no longer an overriding concern, working from home has become routine for both full- and part-time employees.

Some companies are also experimenting with a four-day work week as they seek an advantage in hiring and retaining quality employees. The four-day week does not mean four, 10-hour days —rather, it reduces the work week to 32 hours with the same pay and benefits that they would provide for a 40-hour

work week.

At Houseal Construction in Bath, N.H., husband-and-wife owners Kyle Houseal and Meredith Bienvenue instituted a four-day week in February on a trial basis with the British nonprofit consulting group 4-Day Week Global. The organization was established a few years ago as a platform to support and promote the four-day week. Bienvenue said 4-Day Week Global looks at ways to make meetings more efficient and other areas

6Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
VALLEY NEWS —JENNIFER HAUCK HousesealConstructionemployee NathanielChumbesworksat aprojectinWoodstock onJuly3.The companyisexperimentingwith afour-daywork week for its employees.

where time management can be improved.

“We have taken some of those ideas and tried to convert them to work for our company,”Bienvenue said.

Bienvenue said the four-day week has been a good fit for the company.

“So far it is working really well,” said Bienvenue, the company’s designer and chief operating officer. “Employees are actually more productive on the four days. They are just really happy to get the extra rest and extra time for other interests.”

Advocates of the four-day week point to the results from a six-month trial in the United Kingdom involving 2,900 workers from 61 companies. Among the findings were increased job satisfaction, reduced employee stress and improved work/ life balance, product quality and customer service, along with fewer absences and sick days.

Kristin Smith, a visiting associate professor of sociology and the Rockefeller Center policy research shop director at Dartmouth College, has done research on labor markets and employment including the four-day workweek.

While she agrees it can be beneficial to employees, particularly those who feel “over worked,”it is not a panacea for many workplace issues,

such as pay inequality and workers without benefits. Smith also cautions against those who suggest the fourday week is a trend that will eventually take hold across all industries.

“I don’t think the pandemic had much of an influence on that, and I haven’t seen anything showing that this is a big trend,”Smith said. “I think the bottom line is a lot of employers are thinking about whether they can afford to raise (hourly) wages in this type of way. Some may feel they will have to hire more employees.”

The 32-hour week is standard in many European countries. Bills have been introduced in a few state legislatures, including Massachusetts’, that would provide incentives such as tax credits for companies with 32-hour weeks at the same pay and benefits. To date, no legislation has become law.

“I see it as something employers may decide to test out,”Smith said.

What appears to be happening is that even those in the same industry will have to tailor any workplace changes, whether it is a four-day week or remote work, to their specific circumstances and employee makeup, while ensuring customers are not adversely impacted and employee costs don’t rise.


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4-day week a response to staff shortage

“One size fits none. So forced flexibility isn’t going to work anywhere,”Kate Lister, president of the consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, said in a Stateline.org article.

Bienvenue said she began experimenting with the four-day week in February because —like many businesses in the Upper Valley — Houseal was struggling to find qualified employees to meet a strong demand for their services. The New Hampshire unemployment rate just hit a 40-year low at 1.9%. Vermont’s rate is a little higher at 2.1%. The four-day week proved to be a selling point for one new hire for Houseal.

“Our lead guy, which was a great hire, said he came on with us because of the four-day work week,” Bienvenue said.

The biggest challenge for Houseal has been scheduling projects, Bienvenue said.

“These projects have lots of moving parts, so we need to coordinate ever ything,”she said, adding that in one instance they needed their plumber to work on a Friday so the customer would not go all weekend without a functional kitchen sink.

Customers don’t seem to mind having their projects done during four- instead of five-day weeks. One client told Bienvenue he was glad not to have people he really didn’t know in his house on Fridays, Bienvenue said.

“That has been a bonus for us,” Bienvenue said.

While the four-day week may never become standard, remote work and flexible work schedules have become more common in the wake of COVID-19.

“The pandemic has perhaps shifted employers’views on more flexible work arrangements,”Smith said. “That has been a pretty big shift as employers see employees can be productive outside of the workplace and I think that change in the workplace will remain with us.”

Brian Gottlob, director of the Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau at the New Hampshire Department of Labor, has seen that shift in that department’s job postings.

“The percentage of postings noting remote work has really jumped, beginning last summer,”Gottlob said. “I think it is an indication that



8Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
VALLEY NEWS - JENNIFER HAUCK Sobliros installs house wrap at a job site in Woodstock on July 3. Houseseal Construction is trying out a fourday work week for their employees.


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businesses recognize that was something that was going to be important for those looking to take positions in different organizations. They are starting to make job seekers aware of that in their postings.”

Gottlob said data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track how many companies offer different work schedule options but he can see “anecdotally ”the increase.

“We know that more businesses offer flexibility and they are doing that to compete for labor because there are a lot of openings and fewer people looking for work,”Gottlob said.

Speaking with human resource managers at different companies, Gottlob said he discusses the labor challenges.

“What I hear back is many are offering perks like remote work, four-day weeks and flexible schedules. One company even offered pet insurance,”Gottlob said.

Jon Scott’s experience highlights the emphasis placed on tailoring workplace changes to a specific business because office work, the service industry and manufacturing are so diverse that an across-the-board approach would harm businesses.

Scott, of Plainfield, works for the D.C.-based Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund. He moved to the area in 1989, when dial-up was still in widespread use for online communication. Scott said the Upper Valley has easy access to major population centers such as Boston and New York City, which he said is important for remote work.

“People I work with are all over the place,” Scott said. “Writing and raising money in a nonprofit world one can do from almost anywhere as long as you have the ability to build relationships.”

Bienvenue, of Houseal, said the experiment with a four-day week includes consultation and support from 4-Day Week Global.

“We have spoken to them and have worked through issues after implementation,”Bienvenue said. “They are there to support us to make it work for our specific company.

“We take those ideas (making meetings more efficient) and try to convert them to work for us,” she said. “We look at where we are wasting time and how we do things more efficiently.”

Bienvenue said the trial period will end later this summer and they will decide whether to continue based on the data.

“I am optimistic that we will continue the fourday work week after the trial is over; however, we will need to wait to review the data,”she said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@ gmail.com.

10 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
Matt Vail works on a job site for Houseseal Construction in Woodstock on July 3. The company is trying out a four-day work week for their employees. “I love it,”Vail said. “It’s great.” VALLEY NEWS —JENNIFER HAUCK
11 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023

Home-based businesses boost city

Three Claremont business owners share what led them to leap into going it on their own

CLAREMONT —COVID lockdowns gave Kate McNamee the opportunity to share her love of flower gardening with the home-bound public. Brandon Besserer was seeking income to help pay for his hobby growing bonsai trees. Susan and Michael Sadonsky seized an opportunity from a chance meeting that helped pay for their son’s college tuition.

These Claremont residents are among an estimated 19 million home-based businesses in the United States. While some start small and hope to stay that way to earn a little supplemental income, others dream of growth and eventual expansion beyond the home.

The advantages of starting a business at home have to do with scale. Overhead is low, and there’s no commute. The average investment is less than $5,000, according to U.S. Small Business Administration.

There are also tax deductions and the freedom to better schedule family and work life. The internet has made it easier to market a small, home-based enterprise.

Elyse Crossman, executive director of the Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerce, said that the direct financial benefit of home businesses may be small, but having them in the city is important.

“They can draw people here who then may decide to do other shopping,”Crossman said.

VALLEY NEWS / REPORT FOR AMERICA —ALEX DRIEHAUS Brandon Besserer,right, checksover a bougainvillea bonsai tree to do any necessary last minute pruning before selling it to Jarrod Mayer, of Rochester, Vt., at Besserer’shome in Claremont on June28. “Itinvolves alot ofpatience,” Besserersaidofraising bonsaitrees.“The more patient you are, the better the outcome.”

13 , S u n d a y,July16,2023 12 , S u n d a y,July16,2023

Home-based companies fill a niche

Cut your own at Clover Meadow

During the coronaviruse pandemic, lifelong gardener McNamee came up with the idea of welcoming people to her Clover Meadow Farm to cut their own flowers and take home an arrangement.

Americans were urged to explore the outdoors during the COVID stayat-home orders: While McNamee agrees hiking and similar pursuits were beneficial, she said they were not for everyone.

“People needed something else, and I wanted something familyfriendly (and) accessible, where people can learn about flowers and plants and arrangements and take joy in that,”said McNamee, who moved to Claremont with her husband, Thomas, five years ago.

With not a lot of money or time to invest —McNamee has a full-time job as a transportation dispatcher — she put her idea on local Facebook pages.

“The first year (2021), I just wanted to see if there was an interest,”McNamee said, pointing out snapdragons and zinnias coming up in the beds dotting her small property. “I was really taken aback by how people responded so positively. I almost doubled my sales last year from the first year, and I anticipate doubling again this year. I have customers that come from Weathersfield, Sunapee and Charlestown.”

This summer, McNamee, who also delivers arrangements to customers, has added a few workshops on floral bouquet building, and she updates customers on what is available in a newsletter. She received assistance from the Agricultural Viability Alliance, which partners with the White River Junction-based nonprofit Vital Communities, to help her design and build a website.

“That was extraordinarily helpful,”McNamee said.

McNamee strongly believes that flowers can have therapeutic value. One of her goals is to learn botanical therapy training and offer her services to people in recovery and to mental health nonprofits.

As McNamee walks among the flower beds on her quarter-acre farm, the joy she gets from gardening is in evidence.

“I just love it,”McNamee said more than once as she points out pe-

14 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
Moretropicalbonsaitrees,likejade,oliveandbougainvillea, sitonashelf at Brandon Besserer’s home in Claremont on June 28. Besserer said that when most people think of bonsai trees they imagine juniper, and they are often surprised to learn that other species can be trained in similar ways.

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onies, delphiniums and oriental lilies among the 25 varieties of flowers she grows.

“I am growing 250 zinnias from seed. I’ll be putting in 300 gladiolas and 150 lilies today,”she said, excited for a day ahead in the hot sun one afternoon. “I try to have continual blooms spring through fall.”

Customers can take home a bouquet prepared by McNamee while others will cut their own.

“I encourage it, because it is a great way to get out and learn about flowers,”McNamee said. “I love it and love to see people come and watch their faces and their shoulders relax and I hand them snips and give them a bucket and tell them to go have fun.”

Clover Meadow also has a fencedin “children’s garden”that offers children accompanied by an adult the opportunity to fill a basket of fresh vegetables for $5.

“Many live in places where they can’t grow anything, so it gives them an opportunity to come out and experience what it is to pick your own vegetables, take them home and make something,”McNamee said.

McNamee works an hour or two in the morning and on weekends in her flower beds, calling it a “labor of

love”more than a thriving home business.

“You don’t make a ton of money from farming,”she said.

Her advice to anyone thinking about a home-based business is to start small.

“Find something you love and test it out first,”McNamee said. “Don’t jump in with a website right away. If people are interested, they will find you and buy your products.”

From hobby to home business

Twenty years ago, Besserer discovered that he loved growing bonsai. Around 12 years ago, he started a home business to sell his creations to offset the cost of his hobby.

“I figured if I could sell some trees, I could make up for the cost of soil and other things,”Besserer said while seated outside his home in a small fenced-in area where he estimates he has about 400 bonsai trees of various species and stages of growth. “It pays for itself, and I get a little extra.”

Bonsai —a Japanese term that translates into “potted trees”—is defined as artificially preventing an ornamental tree or shrub from growing to its normal size.

Besserer said he was inspired after seeing the movie “The Karate Kid,”which has several scenes in-

volving bonsai. He learned by experimenting and reading about growing bonsai.

“It is not much different than growing your typical house plant, but it does take a lot of patience,” Besserer said.

In the middle of his garden is a table with a variety of 1-year-old trees that Besserer grew either from cuttings or from seed.

“These are off to a good start after a year, but for most it will take three, four, five or six years before I can get a nice look out of them,” Besserer said. “That is a dilemma in making this a career: the time gap.”

Besserer grows the vast majority of the trees he sells but buys some for customers who want more mature specimens.

“Most people are happy paying $30 for a 1-year-old tree they can grow,”he said.

“If I want to try a new species, I might order one online, grow it out for a while and try my best to get cuttings from that,”Besserer said. “I’m fascinated by the different species.”

When he started selling bonsai, Besserer set up at farmers markets and arts markets and tried Facebook marketing. Today, he relies on people doing Google searches to find his website.

As for growth, Besserer, who is between jobs, said his business is limited by how much space he has. He recently bought a kiln and wants to make his own clay pots, which will further reduce his costs.

“I like to just see a tree start from a little cutting and, five years later, you have something that is really nice,”Besserer said.

‘My fudge maker just backed out’

Susan and Michael Sadonsky were not thinking of a home-based business when they moved back to Claremont July 2001. Former candy store owners in Claremont who moved to Florida in the 1980s, Susan said their son’s tuition payments were coming due, and they knew they needed additional income from Michael’s full-time job while Susan searched for work.

They got back into the food business thanks to a chance encounter Susan had in August 2001 at a gift shop in Bedford, N.H., while shopping for items for their home. Waiting to check out while the owner was on the phone, Susan grew impatient.

“She hung up the phone, turned to me and said, ‘I can’t believe my fudge maker just backed out on me. That was my biggest seller,’”Susan

16 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
VALLEY NEWS / REPORT FOR AMERICA —ALEX DRIEHAUS Brandon Besserer, right, helps Jarrod Mayer, of Rochester, Vt., through an issue with his jade bonsai tree at Besserer’s home in Claremont, on June 28. Besserer, who has been growing bonsai trees for more than two decades, quit his full-time job last year and started dedicating his additional free time to growing new bonsai trees and making his own soil and pots. “I went all in on it,”he said.

recalled. “I introduced myself and said I was not the fudge maker; my husband is.”

Susan convinced her husband it was an opportunity worth considering. They named the company Mountain View Fudge for the views of Ascutney and Okemo from the Claremont home they were renting.

“We started supplying her in August, and it just kept growing from there,”Sadonsky said.

Looking for ways to expand the business, Sadonsky said they joined a Microcredit N.H. group in Newport of six to eight people with small businesses. Microcredit was a program of the nonprofit New Hampshire Community Loan Fund that assisted self-employed people and microbusinesses with skills training, loan capital and networking.

“I was told if I wanted wholesale accounts, I needed to do the Made in N.H. Expo,” Sadonsky recalled.

Mountain View had a booth at the 2002 Made in New Hampshire Expo, which drew about 25,000 people and sent them on their way.

Today, Mountain View Fudge and Kettle Corn supplies eight retail locations in central and western New Hampshire and sells fudge at craft fairs and other events. Mountain View also offers fundraisers to schools and other groups.

Michael makes the fudge —of which there are more than 40 flavors —while Susan labels and delivers the products and sets up booths at events.

Their home business was reverse-engineered. They initially rented space near Mulberry Street before briefly moving to a storefront on Washington Street. Then in 2006, the Sadonskys decided to move to their home to reduce their overhead.

Making the fudge does not require a lot of space. A large stainless steel mixer sits on a table in the kitchen, with the retail containers and ingredients on a shelf below and in the refrigerator.

Sadonsky said anyone thinking about a home-based business needs to realize there is no leaving the office.

“The only downside of it is you go to bed at night looking at it and you wake up in the morning looking at it,”Sadonsky said with a laugh.

Careful record-keeping is also important because an area in a home designated for a business can have tax deduction advantages, if done properly.

What is common among McNamee, Besserer and the Sadonskys is that they chose something that they love doing, not because someone convinced them they could get rich doing it. That can often be the difference between success and closing up shop after a few years.

Patrick O’Gradycan bereached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

17 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
VALLEY NEWS / REPORT FOR AMERICA —ALEX DRIEHAUS BrandonBesserer,center,helpsJarrodMayer,ofRochester, Vt.,throughan issue with his bonsai tree at Besserer’shome inClaremont onJune 28.Besserer pointedto someleggy sectionsof thetree anddetermined that it probably needed more light.

Tentative embrace of AI

Upper Valley business owners describe their experiences with artificial intelligence

Over 60 years ago, “The Jetsons”

cartoon television series imagined a two-hour workweek with George Jetson working at Spacely Sprockets, pushing buttons on a computer named RUDI, while his robot housekeeper named Rosy took care of housework at home. Both RUDI and Rosy would have conversations with George and perform duties without being told —in other words, they had artificial intelligence or AI.

While our imaginationsmay havebeen thinkingaboutAIin theearly1960s,actual artificialintelligence nowis fastbecoming areality andubiquitous. TheAI of today doesn’t look like Rosy (yet) but is becoming a tool that affects how we work and interact while at work.

You have likelyalready encountered AIif youshop online.Many onlineretailers and service providers are using chatbots ontheir websites forcustomer service or to triage complaints. However, moreandmore smalllocalbusinesses arediscovering AIto helpin theirbusiness as well.

Asaregional chamberofcommerce, the Upper Valley Business Alliance likes to keep on top of trends that affect or can be useful to our businesses. A recent poll in ourweekly newsletteron whetherour Upper Valley businesses were employingAIsawmany sayingyes.Ofthose whouse AI,mostwereusing itformarketingpurposes, suchas writingblog posts orsocial mediaposts, butothers were using AI intheir customer engage-

18 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023 AP FILE

ment and human resources as well.

Lisa Vallejo Sorensen, communicationsdirectorat theUpperValley Aquatic Center (UVAC), explained howthe WhiteRiver Junctionnonprofit organization is using AI.

“Weareinthe earlystagesofusing AI in our business here at Upper ValleyAquatic Center.We areresearching moreways touse itand whether it is a good fit for us,”Sorenson said. “UVAC usesAIforblog posts,scavenger huntclues,writing code for forms, and writing lyrics for fun songs. Weare considering using some other applicationsfor machine learning and remarketing, but we are still in the early stages for that.”

The time-saving aspect of apps such as ChatGPT and JasperAI is attractive to smallbusiness owners trying to jugglemultiple tasks.

Painters of New England in Hartford, uses AIto stay onschedule writing blog posts.

“Itis suchas timesaver,”Burke said. “Ina shorttime, Ican generate content forseveral months’worth of blog posts. Sometimes I will need to go inand editthe contentfor errors and it’shelpful tohaveknowledgeof the subject, but it saves me hours.”

Much has been in the news about students using AI tools such as ChatGPT to generate papers and whether teachers were ableto distinguish AIwrittencontentfrom studentorhuman-written content.

Marketing professionalChuck Sink, owner of Chuck Sink Link, a full-service marketing agency and a professorof marketingatPlymouth State University, said that he can spotAI-writtencontent byitsvanilla and surface level qualities.

“Either it’s over-promptedor it sounds likeit’s‘trying toohard,’” Sink said.“Sometimes itsimply parrotswhatyougive itinafewredundant ways. I knew immediately when afew ofmy studentsused AIlast minute on their term papers.”

Sink said that using AI is a timesaver in writing for marketing purposesbut doesn’tfully replacethe “human touch.”

“I have used ChatGPT and JasperAI on several client projects andhave hadto editthe contentconsiderably beforeI woulddare submit it,”he said.“Butit hascertainly saved timeby draftingdecent baseline content thatI can add toand improve.”

Long-time radio account executive Bob Sherman, of Great Eastern Radio Stations, agrees.

“Locallyhere atGreatEastern

Radio in West Lebanon, we have been usingAI for draftsfor radio scripts and it has been very helpful to our newesthires indeveloping new creative messaging,”Sherman said. “We then jump inand edit for some contextand morefine-tuneddialogue, but it’s a great starter.”

However, Sherman went on to add thatiHeartMedia, aconglomerateof 850 radio stations across the country, recently banned use of AI-generated ads. iHeartMedia CEOBob Pittman was addressing AI concerns and they have banned public AI chatbot use for company projects.

Ina newsrelease, Pittmansaid, “AlthoughAI, includingChatGPT andother AIs,can beenormously helpful and transformative, we want to be smart about how we implement

19 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
We are in the early stages of using AI in our business here at Upper Valley Aquatic Center. We are researching more ways to use it and whether it is a good fit for us. UVAC uses AI for blog posts, scavenger hunt clues, writing code for forms, and writing lyrics for fun songs. We are considering using some other applications for machine learning and remarketing, but we are still in the early stages for that.”
LISA SORENSEN, communications director at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center

Upper Valley businesses cautiously implement AI tools

thesetoolsto protectourselves,our partners,our company’s information, and our user data.”

Pittman went on to say in his company memothat: “As temptingas it is, please don’t use AI tools like ChatGPToncompany devicesorinrelationto companywork,or putany company documents into them, in order to protect iHeart’s intellectual property, partners,data andconfidential information.”

Proprietary concerns are valid on an open-source platform such as ChatGPT. Manysmall UpperValley businesseshave expressedconcern overAI learningtoomuch, toofast and withno guardrails.While a “Rosy ”from “The Jetsons”sounds like a dream come true, many people also cited movies whereAI took over andwent outofcontrolsuch asthe “Terminator ”and “I, Robot.”

Ray Coffin, owner of All Access Infotechin WestLebanon,specializes

incybersecurity andITmanagement.Coffin callsAIthe new“geewhiz technology”but cautions businessesthatthey shoulddosomerisk analysis before using it.

“Don’tput confidentialinformationinto aprogram likeChatGPT,” Coffin said. “Adding information into an AIdatabase ishow itlearns and now whatever you have added is public.”

However, Coffin doesn’t see AI as something to be feared.

“Atone time,people wereafraid that e-commerce would replace brick and mortar shopping. It did not, it became anadditional toolfor shopping,”Coffinsaid. “AI needs to be evaluated whereit canbe atool to cut costs, speed up delivery and offer better customerservice. Ithink we will see newapplications using AI that will evolve how we do business.”

Coffin also said that AI can be misused.

“Like anytool, it can beused for the negative,”hesaid. “There are

people using AIlike smart malware to overcome businesses’cyber security.”

So what wouldChatGPT say on thistopic?Having neverusedthe programbefore,I decidedtofind out.

Below iswhat ChatGPTwrote whenpromptedto writeblogonhow small businesses use AI.

ChatGPT wrote:“In today’s rapidly evolvingdigital landscape, small businesses are increasingly recognizing thetransformative power of artificial intelligence (AI) in driving growth, enhancing productivity,and deliveringpersonalizedcustomerexperiences. Whileonceconsideredadomain exclusivetolarge corporations, AIhas becomemore accessibleand affordable,enabling small businesses toleverage its capabilities andgain acompetitive edge. In this blog,we will explore how small businesses are utilizing AI to optimize their operations, improve decision-making,and propeltheir


ChatGPTwent onto writeparagraphs aboutenhancing customer engagement, streamliningoperations,personalizing marketingefforts, driving insights and cyberfraud prevention.

Itconcluded with:“Artificial intelligence has emerged as a gamechanger forsmall businesses,empowering them to compete in a digitally-driven economy. By harnessing thepotential ofAI, smallbusinesses can enhancecustomer engagement, streamline operations,personalize marketing efforts, drive insights, and fortify cybersecurity measures. As AI continues to advance, its accessibilityand affordabilitywill onlyincrease, opening up new possibilities for small businesses to leverage this technology for sustainedgrowth and success. It’san excitingtimefor smallbusinessesto embraceAIand unlocktheirfull potentialinaneverevolving marketplace.”

Not half bad, ChatGPT.

20 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
This picture taken on Jan. 23, 2023, in Toulouse, France, shows screens displaying the logos of OpenAI and ChatGPT.

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‘Connection to that physical space’

Retail, commercial, industrial real estate markets stay steady in Upper Valley

The commercial real estate market in the Upper Valley is a bit of a mixed bag.

While the industrial sector is the strongest, office and retail spaces are also holding their own, as there is more interest in space in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The industrial market, with lots of demand and limited supply, is extremely tight,”said Chip Brown, principal broker with Brown Commercial Realty in Hanover. “Current occupancy is close to 99%. Local businesses are growing and looking for available space that simply is not there.”

Brown also said contributing to that strong industrial market are high construction costs, limited availability of appropriately zoned land and long lead times to build, further constraining the market.

“Accordingly, rents and values have been rising,”Brown said.

Yves Bradley, a partner with Vt. Commercial, a statewide real estate group that specializes in commercial properties, also noted the strength of the industrial sector in Vermont.

“The industrial sector used to be the weakest, but now it is the strongest,”Bradley said, adding that the pandemic created a big demand for companies looking to store inventory. “There is a very low vacancy rate of industrial space around the state. Right now, if you own an industrial building you will get top dollar because rents have gone up 20% to 25%.”

The New Hampshire Commercial Investment Board of Realtors tracks commercial real estate trends statewide. Chris Norwood, of the Norwood Group in Bedford, N.H., who served as president of the New Hampshire Commercial Investment Board of Realtors, said that, generally speaking, industrial is very strong across existing buildings

and land. He believes supply chain shortages and shipping bottlenecks during COVID are the prime drivers of the need for industrial space in the state.

“There were a number of industries that got caught and they are saying ‘Never again. So I will add 20,000 square feet to complement what I have and put two months of extra inventory on the shelf,’”Norwood said. “ ‘I will have supply.’ That is not everybody, but it is a driving force for some.”

Brown said in the Upper Valley, the commercial real estate market, despite being relatively small in size, has remained steady and healthy over many years. He said there is a strong employment base, anchored by Dartmouth College, Dartmouth Health and about 1.5 million square feet of bio-tech and high-tech businesses.

“According to Granite Stats/Economic Labor Market Information Bureau, the Lebanon NH-VT Micropolitan statistical area has averaged about 1.5% unemployment since the beginning of 2023, with 0.9% unemployment as of April 2023,”Brown wrote in an email. “Although the hospital has been tightening their belt, the large majority of businesses in the area have been steady or growing.”Regarding office space, Brown said companies are finding “better quality or right-sized spaces.”

“How much occupancy will be affected by the new hybrid and remote work models is yet to be fully determined, but at least to date, the overall office occupancy is about 90%,”he said. “Interestingly enough, this is slightly better than preCOVID. Office rents and values have remained steady.”

Jane Osgood and Ted Hilles own State and Main Associates in Windsor, a property management company with more than a dozen properties in Windsor, Norwich, West Lebanon, Lebanon and other communities. Osgood said as of late, the market appears healthier.

22 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023

“We are seeing an upward trend in demand in both commercial and residential (apartments),” Osgood said. “The majority of our business is in commercial and we have seen an uptick in interest with people looking for commercial space.”

The drop in demand during COVID seems to be turning around, Osgood added. “It is a nice surprise.”

Bradley said he is seeing the office space market for less than 5,000 square feet “relatively active”with some looking for more space or perhaps a nicer location. Conversely, larger spaces are not seeing that sort of demand and are having a harder time, he added.

Trying to sell an office building now can be difficult, Bradley said, because of a high vacancy rate in many areas.

“There is uncertainty right now in that market,”he said.

Overall, Bradley said the commercial market has traditionally active areas throughout the state.

“The Upper Valley remains a busy place,” Bradley said, adding that in some markets, such as Hanover, landlords can command high rents.

Brown said an apartment market that has been under-supplied for many years “is finally getting re-balanced.”

“In Lebanon alone, there are about 1,600 units that either just came on-line or are expected to come on-line within the next couple years. More units are expected in neighboring towns of Hanover, White River Junction, and Enfield,” Brown said. “This will translate into more people spending less time getting to work, and more time eating, shopping and having fun locally — making for a more vibrant and dynamic Upper Valley.”

Norwood, who serves on the board of directors for New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, said he has seen a lot of acquisition activity for multi-family dwellings both large and small as the state emphasizes programs such as the low-income tax credits to increase the number of housing units. But that activity is being slowed by rising interest rates, Norwood added, meaning higher earnings on equity is paying off

debt. Also affecting the housing market are construction prices, which have increased since the pandemic.

Stimulus programs such as InvestNH and low-income tax credits are helping investors blunt the effects of increased interest rates and soaring construction costs.

“We need every one of those dollars to get some of these projects off the ground,”Nor wood said.

Office space in the Granite State appears to quell the fears of working from home during COVID would become a permanent change.

“We all thought it would be the death of office space and no one would be going back,”Nor wood said.

But a national movement, led by technology companies, shows that employees need a “connection to a physical space,”he said.

Bradley said he is seeing a fair amount of office space as some companies downsize and not a lot of new business is coming into the state.

“The office market I think is worrisome,” Bradley said.

For retail, Bradley sees a bit of a “resurgence” for the big box retailers with pedestrian shopping centers having a harder time bringing back customers amid the growing popularity of online shopping.

Brown said the Upper Valley’s retail sector is starting to wake up after being dampened by “online shopping, the pandemic, and (the departure of) older ailing anchors such as Kmart and JCPenney ’s.”

He noted that Route 12A has seen “a significant lift”with the new Target in the former Kmart, interest in the JCPenney space and other activity such as the upcoming openings of Jersey Mike’s, T-Mobile at Staples Plaza, Convenient MD at The Citizens Bank building, and new leases at North Country Plaza.

“Interest in downtown retail has also picked up with both local and national stores looking around in Hanover, White River Junction and L ebanon,”Brown said.

Patrick O’Gradycan bereachedatpogclmt@ gmail.com.

23 Valley News, S u n d a y,July16,2023
The industrial market, with lots of demand and limited supply, is extremely tight. Current occupancy is close to 99%. Local businesses are growing and looking for available space that simply is not there.”
CHIP BROWN, principal broker with Brown Commercial Realty in Hanover.
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