At one point in time, whaling was the fifth-largest industry in the U.S. The nation had 640 whaling boats, three times the rest of the world combined. New England was the heart of this industry as boats disembarked daily from places like New Bedford, Massachusetts, to hunt for whales, which were killed mainly for blubber used for oil. The whaling industry peaked in the mid-1800s and collapsed as an industry by the early 1900s as petroleum came into common use.
Today, the New England Region (which includes Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) has a far more diverse industry base that is supported by finance and insurance, scientific research and health care. The region is home to the headquarters of 38 Fortune 500 companies, although all of these companies are in three states — Massachusetts (18), Connecticut (14) and Rhode Island (six). Notable companies include conglomerate General Electric and defense contractor Raytheon Technologies in Massachusetts; manufacturer Stanley Black & Decker in Connecticut; and pharmacy giant CVS Health and toymaker Hasbro in Rhode Island.
Massachusetts ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 2020 State Technology and Science Index report produced by the Milken Institute. The annual report looks at dozens of indicators that span five broad categories, including research and development, entrepreneurship and human capital. New Hampshire was listed at No. 7 and Connecticut at No. 12.
Natural-resource extraction remains vital to the region. New Bedford, for instance, has ranked No. 1 in the nation for 20 years in a row for the value of seafood brought to its port. (In 2019, this amounted to $451 million.) Vermont and Massachusetts have ranked among the top five states in recent years for dimension stone production, which includes such things as granite used for countertops. Logging contributed $619 million to Maine’s economy in 2017.
Massachusetts ranked 12th in the nation in 2020 for GDP at $582.5 billion. Connecticut ranked 23rd with a GDP of $276.4 billion. Other regional GDP rankings included New Hampshire (38th, $87.6 billion), Maine (43rd, $69.3 billion), Rhode Island (44th, $60.6 billion) and Vermont (50th, $33.4 billion).
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Manchester, New Hampshire, has repeatedly landed at the top of Realtor.com’s monthly list of the hottest housing markets. The Realtor.com economics team measures this by looking at unique viewers per property and counting the number of days a listing remains active on its website.
Five of the nation’s top 20 hottest housing markets this past October were in the New England Region, according to Realtor.com. The others were Concord, New Hampshire, at No. 13; the Massachusetts cities of Springfield and Worcester, at No. 14 and No. 15, respectively; and Portland, Maine, at No. 16. ●
Like the rest of the country, the New England Region saw double-digit home-price growth over the past year. As of October 2021, each of the states in the region had home prices well above Zillow’s typical U.S. home value of $312,728. Massachusetts ranked highest in the region at $539,007 while Vermont came in lowest at $320,499, Zillow reported.
The New England Region sported 11 of the top 100 priciest ZIP codes in the nation in 2021, according to data provider PropertyShark. Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood came in at No. 2 as the median home-sales price there clocked in at $5.5 million. All 11 of these pricey ZIP codes were in Massachusetts or Connecticut.
According to the Vermont Association of Realtors, sales of single-family homes in the Green Mountain State were down nearly 25% year over year this past September. Pending sales at this time had dropped by nearly 80%. The Rhode Island Association of Realtors, meanwhile, noted that out-of-state buyers comprised one-quarter of all luxury-home sales (properties valued at $1 million or more) in the Ocean State as of third-quarter 2021.
Focus: Insurance industry
In the early 1700s, Hartford, Connecticut, served as a major river port with ships arriving daily from all over the world. In coffee shops and on wharves, sea captains and ship owners met and often talked shop. One constant worry was shipwrecks, which could wipe out entire fortunes.
From these conversations, seafarers reached informal agreements to share risks and profits. These agreements led to the birth of the insurance industry in the U.S. The insurance industry remains a major employer in Hartford, which is nicknamed the Insurance Capital of the World. About 63,500 people are employed in the insurance business today in the Greater Hartford area, the most insurance workers per capita in the U.S.
Insurance is big business throughout the New England Region. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. is based in Boston. MassMutual is based in Springfield, Massachusetts. Commercial-property insurer FM Global is based in Johnston, Rhode Island. Hartford Financial Services Group is in Hartford, while health care and supplemental insurance company Cigna is in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
What the locals say
“We’re definitely starting to see some more inventory come on the market (in Maine), which is nice. It alleviates some of the stress, but we’re still getting multiple offers on every house. It’s very unheard of if a house is on the market for more than 30 days. It’s almost like, ‘Why is that house still in the market? What’s wrong? Maybe we can get it for asking price.’”
Senior loan officer
Northstar Mortgage Group
3 Cities to Watch
Founded in 1865 along the shores of Lake Champlain, this city in Vermont was one of the largest lumber ports in the country until the industry declined in the early 1900s. Much of the industrial waterfront sustained urban decay and Burlington reclaimed the land for public purposes. Today, Burlington is the largest city in the Green Mountain State with a population of about 44,000. Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s was founded there in 1978, although its current headquarters is in South Burlington.
The largest city in the New England Region, Boston has a metro-area population of nearly 5 million and is a center for health care, finance and higher education, with three major universities (Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern University). These three campuses employ about 16,500 people. With nearby Harvard, MIT and other universities, Boston has nearly 350,000 college students, ranking fourth among U.S. cities for total student population. The median household income is $71,115.
Samuel Slater built North America’s first water-powered cotton mill in this Rhode Island city in 1793, which is considered to be the start of the Industrial Revolution. Hasbro, headquartered in Pawtucket and one of the city’s largest employers, emerged from the textile industry by making pencil-box covers before later shifting to school supplies and toys. Pawtucket, which is a suburb of Providence, has a population of 72,000. The median household income is $50,476.
Sources: Ben & Jerry’s; Bloomberg; Boston Globe; Boston Real Estate Times; Boston Redevelopment Authority; Britannica; City of Burlington; Encyclopedia.com; Fortune; HartfordHistory.net; Mainebiz; Milken Institute; Realtor.com; Rhode Island Association of Realtors; The Atlantic; U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Geological Survey; Vermont Association of Realtors; Vermont Demographics by Cubit; WPRI-TV; Zillow