What do you get when you pack a room with technologists, (mostly female by the nature of the event) heads of industry, educational leaders and practitioners, and a good dose of students; all to hear from the individuals who want to represent us in Washington D.C. and in our state’s corner office? You get a vibrant and dynamic conversation about things that really matter to an audience of people who are the engine behind our state’s growing tech economy. That’s what our Town Hall Power Forum on October 12 was.
We did not want the candidates, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R), Governor Maggie Hassan (D), both vying for the U.S. Senate seat, or N.H. gubernatorial candidates Councilors Colin Van Ostern (D) and Chris Sununu (R), to come and be prepped for just one more debate with a focus on bringing down the other candidates’ views.
Instead, as the organizers, the Tech Council was clear: we wanted an open and flowing conversation off the cuff, completely and totally about technology. And it worked; it was indeed powerful. You could feel the energy as people were poised to ask the next, and next, and next question. Candidates spoke on issues ranging from our need for a stronger workforce pipeline to our higher education institutions aligning with growth areas, to how should our state government best invest back into our growth, given the current surplus in the state coffers, and our federal government could also spur growth through tax credits and targeted grants.
What candidates, and the audience, did not hear was heightened political rhetoric and negative comments about any of the candidates present, or about any candidate on an even larger national stage.
This event was in place of our typical TechWomen/TechGirls monthly breakfast programming, in which the dedicated and energetic Power Breakfast committee thoughtfully chooses female disruptors and leaders in tech to come and share their inside story and game, in an open and, well, a real way. And this is just what we asked our candidates to provide to us at the Power Forum. An open, honest and real conversation. “Tell us what you know about our industry’s impact in our state,” we said. “Tell us how you’ve already participated in tech here in N.H., and most importantly, tell us what you would do through your administration to make New Hampshire an even better place for people to start a tech business or to grow one.” And they did. Candidates talked about how they would invest in re-training funds, bolster the role of higher ed to match industry needs, tear down regulations that are barriers to growth, and help market the state to attract talent.
For me, perhaps most satisfying, was that my 14-year-old daughter was there. The conversation on the way back to school afterwards was clear. She “got” exactly what they were talking about, and (in her words) she “thinks she really knows them now.” The conversation mattered, and meant more than any headline or social media comment about the latest accusation or misstep. Instead, it helped to fuel her already heightened curiosity about the political process and public service. Her only disappointment? Her quick math about her birthdate made her realize that she will miss the opportunity to vote in the 2020 election by ONE day; she can’t wait until 2024!
-Michelline Dufort is the Tech Council’s director of business relations and coordinates our government relations efforts. Check out photos from the event on Facebook, or learn more about the Council’s TechWomen/TechGirls initiative, and let us know what you thought about the event in the comments or via social media @nhhtc or on Facebook and LinkedIn.