Career shifts are always stressful, especially when it involves taking over a new position overseeing statewide economic issues. Even so, Taylor Caswell is eager to leverage his decades of government and economic development experience as the first commissioner of the NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs (BEA), the result of Gov. Chris Sununu reconfiguring the former NH Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) into two entities to better focus the state’s economic development efforts.
Caswell is no stranger to public service. After over a decade in Washington D.C. working mostly for Rep. Bill Zeliff, Caswell held government relations positions in the private sector before President George W. Bush appointed him regional administrator for New England of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He left HUD in 2008 and spent the next five years offering consulting services to nonprofits focused on expanding affordable housing and aiding homeless veterans.
The Littleton native wanted to return to the Granite State and jumped at the opportunity to lead the NH Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA) as executive director starting in 2014. The CDFA provides financing to community and economic development projects that provide affordable housing and economic opportunity for low- and moderate-income NH residents.
Caswell says his upbringing, and his father’s influence in particular, helped him appreciate NH’s sense of community. “My dad was a small-town community doctor in the North Country who would leave dinner to answer patients’ calls,” spending as much time with people who could only give him a cord of wood for his services as he would those who could pay him, Caswell says. “I internalized that community focus, and throughout my career, I’ve tried to have a broad impact and help individuals as much as I can,” he says.
Caswell’s experience prompted Gov. Sununu to bring him on as an adviser for planning the BEA’s launch and then appoint him as commissioner. (He was confirmed on August 1.) Through the rearrangement of DRED, the Division of Economic Development and the Division of Travel and Tourism Development now comprise the BEA, while the Divisions of Parks and Recreation, Forest and Lands and Cultural Resources now make up the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCR). The NCR will be led by Jeffrey Rose, former DRED commissioner.
Caswell says the formation of the BEA “wasn’t a reaction to something done poorly in the past,” though he notes that DRED for many years had ups and downs when it came to achieving economic development goals. Instead, Caswell explains that the BEA is intended to create an organizational infrastructure that can focus in a singular way on economic development.
“We’ve been chasing two parallel tracks,” says Caswell. “These two divisions have their own separate functioning components that dovetail nicely in a number of ways. I’m excited to lead us toward a future where we have a much more singular feel.”
That starts with hiring a new director of the BEA’s Division of Economic Development, currently overseen by acting director Chris Way. The BEA had received 57 applications when the job posting closed on Sept. 1, according to Caswell, which included several applicants from within NH.
Though he didn’t have any updates on the interview process as of press time, he doesn’t anticipate opening any more rounds for applications and hopes to hire someone “as soon as possible, preferably before all the leaves are off the trees.”
In the meantime, the BEA is drafting a 10-year economic strategy with a Council of Partner Agencies, consisting of representatives from the CDFA, NH Business Finance Authority, NH Housing Finance Authority and the Community College System of NH. Caswell says the council’s goal is to foster collaboration between the state’s major economic development agencies and create a plan to enact substantial, positive change in how NH will approach issues related to business and economic affairs.
As of press time, Caswell anticipated the council would hold its first meeting in September.
“We don’t want this to be something we stuff in a three-ring binder and put on a shelf somewhere,” he adds. “We truly want this to guide us for the next decade.”