It’s 3am as I write this. My second child is 6 days old, and I’ve just rediscovered that hour of blurry-eyed productivity after his early-morning feeding.
I type while he rocks back to sleep. Everyone else in the house snoozes.
New Hampshire is a great place to raise a kid – safe communities, full of other young families, and the schools are great – but the truth is that when I moved here twelve years ago last week, none of that was on my mind. I flew up for that first job interview one year after graduating college without knowing a soul north of Boston.
To be honest, I never intended to stay; I just came for a good job that I thought would last for a few years as a stepping stone in my career. But, New Hampshire has a way of charming you, under that rough Granite face.
My inner policy-wonk thinks about the factors that can encourage more young people to Stay, Work, and Play in New Hampshire: good jobs, growing companies, and a modern infrastructure that supports them. That means easy access to Boston, first-rate schools and universities, downtowns with personality, a beautiful outdoors, and tolerant and inclusive laws and attitudes.
But ultimately, my own decision to stay was much more personal than that. After moving here in 2001, I made a conscious choice to stay three times:
- In 2004, I was traveling in the Midwest for work when the organization I worked for was shuttered abruptly. I did a lot of thinking as I drove two twelve-hour days, unemployed, from Des Moines to Concord. I distinctly remember pulling into a gas station in Concord to fill up at the end of the trip, and as I waited in line to pay, the owner of a local deli greeted me like a neighbor. “Colin, I haven’t seen you for months – where’ve ya been?” It felt like I was home. And when I think back, I realize I really missed the friends around my weekly poker game, who I hadn’t seen in months.
- In 2007, I moved from Concord to Hanover with my girlfriend, who enrolled at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. What I knew at the time was that the Wall Street Journal had just ranked it the best business school in the world. What I didn’t know was the source of Tuck’s strength: the unique bond that adult students will build in a beautiful, modern, rural community just far enough from the buzz of Boston and New York. When a friend and I launched a startup, we found alumni and professors who became mentors and angel investors – and I soon learned that Tuck’s competitive advantage was rooted in having the tightest alumni network on the planet.
- In 2008, I came the closest to leaving New Hampshire. Our startup hadn’t found its legs, but it opened the door to an offer of work at Apple in Cupertino, CA, about an hour from where I grew up (this was post-iPhone, pre-iPad). I flew out to San Francisco for spring break, visited the amazing company and spent a few days alone in the small hometown I had left after sixth grade, thinking about what I wanted out of my life. I flew home, bought a puppy, and proposed to my wife. I was staying.
I love this state. I’m raising two great boys here (and a black lab who – let’s be honest – is basically a third son). I work at the biggest organic yogurt maker in the world – not quite Apple, sure, but I’m proud to be making healthier people and a healthier planet. Last year I ran for office, asking neighbors in towns stretching like a belt across the center of the state to vote me into the five-member state Executive Council.
When I hear “Stay, Work, Play,” I have to admit the “Play” part now means t-ball and beach trips where it used to mean bars and BBQs. But I know that I wouldn’t have found my way to this point in my life without the people who kept me in New Hampshire these past twelve years.
Colin Van Ostern lives in Concord with his wife Kristyn, their sons Peter & Patrick, and their dog Moses. He works as Brand Manager at Stonyfield Farm and was elected last year to serve on the state’s five-member Executive Council, representing 49 towns from the Connecticut River to the Maine border.