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Nashua has grown up and prospered as a commuter suburb to Boston and its prosperous northern suburbs, offering the best of small-city living, tax climate, and considerably cheaper homes at the expense of long commutes across the Massachusetts border. The lack of a sales tax brings shoppers across the border from northern Massachusetts, leading to a larger retail infrastructure than one might expect. A new commuter rail service will strengthen Nashua’s role as a bedroom community. The story isn’t all about commuters--there is a considerable business presence in the area, with corporate names like Oracle, HP, Nashua Corporation (office machines) and Lockheed Martin operating large facilities. Workers at these facilities will find commutes a non-issue.
Educated, higher-income professionals have flocked to the areas excellent homes mainly to the south and west, and have supported a strong downtown revitalization giving a very walkable core with plenty to do. Cost of living is low for the region but is rising and bears watching. The area still has some post-industrial blight and crime issues, and rapid growth plus low taxes equals some lag in creating public infrastructure and services, but it generally far forward on the upward path.
Manchester may be on the same path towards reversal of prior industrial decline, but it isn’t as far along. It also has the typical older downtown with several mill sites along the river, but the economy has been more depressed and for a longer period of time. However, signs of progress are starting to show; some of the mills in town have been attractively repurposed for new-economy businesses, and a few, like Autodesk and Texas Instruments, recognizing low costs of doing business, have started to appear. The area has made a concerted effort to attract new business, and attractive new residential areas are starting to spring up especially to the north. Discount air carriers have discovered Manchester and have made it a jumping off point for all of New England. Low living costs compared to Nashua and especially for the region, an attractive setting and proximity to the Boston area and other prime New England spots should make the turnaround work, but Manchester today lacks many of the entertainment and arts amenities of its southern neighbors, and has a less educated population. It is more of a “diamond in the rough” than Nashua.
Both towns lie in the valley of the Merrimack River, and both are surrounded by low, rolling, wooded hills. Downtown Nashua lies on the west bank of the river and most growth is towards the southwest, which becomes hilly at the town’s outskirts. The river valley at Manchester is narrower but opens to the north and east into more level terrain, supporting residential development. The climate is typically continental for areas of New England away from the coast. Summers are moderately warm and humid with occasional spells of hotter, stickier weather and thundershowers alternating with pleasantly cool, drier periods. Fall seasons are classic and colorful, while spring is a mixed bag. Winters are cold with prevailing northwesterly winds bringing waves of cold, dry air. Snow is common and becomes heavy when “noreaster” storms move up the Atlantic Coast. Winter snow cover is prevalent December through March, but periods of thawing and bare ground regularly occur. First freeze is late September, last is late May.