CONWAY — Gov. Chris Sununu Tuesday stopped in North Conway at new outdoor mega-retailer REI, where he praised the company for making New Hampshire a better place in which to live.
The governor, who was also celebrating his 45th birthday, was on a swing through the North Country which included previous stops in Berlin, Bretton Woods and Randolph.
The 24,779-square-foot REI Co-op opened the North Conway store — its first in the Granite State — in September. There are 53,000 co-op members in New Hampshire.
Promotional material from the Seattle-based company touts the North Conway venue as being the first of its spaces to “be a launching pad for outdoor activities.
“While most REI stores are located where members live, work and shop, REI North Conway is located closer to where they get outside and play.”
Sununu said during his Tuesday afternoon stop,
“What REI has created right here in North Conway is so unique, and it’s finally getting into that 21st-century model of not just being a retail store but a retail store that gets fully immersed into the experience.”
“To have that here and to have one of the only ones like this around is a huge opportunity to us.”
Store manager Shannon Hanley told Sununu that the North Conway store is “unique” because it also offers an assortment of rentals.
The store also has an experienced staff and offers classes and programs, such as rappelling adventures and kayak tours.
“It’s a one-stop-shop kind of thing,” Hanley said, adding that the store serves locals and tourists alike.
During the governor’s visit, Hanley showed Sununu bikes and other outdoor gear.
In addition, she said rental skis have recently arrived at the store.
The specialty outdoor retailer is located in Settlers Crossing, 1498 White Mountain Highway.
REI North Conway joined eight other REI stores in New England: four in Massachusetts, three in Connecticut and one in Rhode Island. REI will hold a grand opening for its Vermont store in Williston on Nov. 15-17.
There are over 30 employees at the North Conway store.
Business attorney and outdoor consultant Tyler Ray, who recently founded the North Conway firm Backyard Concept, helped coordinate the governor’s visit.
“As a community member, I have to say that REI has been wonderful coming in and really infusing some capital into local trail networks, whether it be for mountain biking or skiing,” said Ray.
“It’s been great to have them in town,” he said.
By way of introducing itself to the area, REI invested $20,000 in the Mt. Washington Valley Trails Association to help build the North Conway Recreation Path.
The co-op annually gives more than 70 percent of its profits back to the outdoor community through member dividends, employee retirement contributions and investment in non-profit partners. In 2018, REI invested $8.4 million to 431 non-profits across the country.
REI also has given $200,000 over the past three years to the National Forest Foundation to support trail restoration work along the Crawford Path.
During the visit, Sununu took the opportunity to trumpet the news that smartasset.com has determined that New Hampshire is the top state for Millennials to move to in the Northeast. Smartasset said its findings are based on census data.
Sununu said New Hampshire offers high-paying jobs and has a high quality of life and affordable housing. In fact, Sununu said Coos County has a lower unemployment rate than other states.
He said New Hampshire is like a “tax-free suburb of Boston,” though he added that New Hampshire is also having people move in from Vermont and Maine.
Of moving to New Hampshire in order to recreate in the outdoors, “we are really seeing a shift in people coming up here and moving here for that purpose,” Ray told the governor.
“Everyone wonders how the North Country can survive with all these mill economies and trying to convert them into at least outdoor outdoor economies — having REI come in is a clear sign something is happening,” Ray said.
The governor said that the current economic situation in New Hampshire is a result of the state’s effort to foster a fertile business environment and efforts to promote affordable housing.
“If you keep doing things like it’s 1995, then you will be stuck in 1995,” said Sununu. “We want to be in 2025 — it’s about thinking forward and being aggressive and promoting the heck out of it.”
In 1995, the governor of New Hampshire was Steve Merrill, a Republican from Hampton. According to Wikipedia, Merrill served on the staff of Gov. John Sununu (Chris Sununu’s father) and was the state’s Attorney General before being elected governor. He is known for being the first elected official to coin the phrase, “The New Hampshire Advantage.”
Managing Editor Margaret McKenzie contributed to this article.