Coos County Democrat: Rep. Annie Kuster visited Santa's Village to support tourism
JEFFERSON — Elaine Gainer met with Congresswoman Annie Kuster on Thursday morning on the last of her three-day "North Country Listening Tour," which included spotting five bald eagles at the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge in Wentworth's Location.
It was back in the early 1950s that Elaine, then a young girl, asked her parents, Normand and Cecile Dubois, if the fawn that jumped in front of their car on Route 2 in Jefferson was one of Santa's reindeer. They decided this was a sign that they should act on their dream of opening a Christmas-themed amusement park.
"We're a three-generation family-owned business," Gainer told Kuster. "And we have a 12-year-old grandson who will be able to make it four generations, once he turns 14," she pointed out proudly.
Business has been very good this summer, despite having to close over Memorial Day weekend, reported Bruce Hicks of Jefferson, formerly chief communications elf who continues to work part-time as a management team member.
Kuster pointed out that her father, Malcolm McLane, had been a original investor and co-owner of Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch, making her very aware of the issues that surround snow in the Granite State.
"We're hoping that this area can maintain the quaintness that tourists find so appealing," Gainer said. "We don't want to lose our quality of life."
"We want enough progress and modernity, such as broadband and cell service, so that people can thrive, not so much that it harms what we have," Hicks added. "It's a matter of balance."
Kuster asked Gainer if there were any federal issues that directly impact Santa's Village.
The park now employs 10 or 12 foreign workers who are affected by the quota set for such students who are allowed to work under specific visa rules. "We used to hire 25, but we now hire more older workers," Hicks explained. "Local high school and college students learn a lot about global competitiveness when they work alongside foreign students who speak three or four languages, including very good English. We have students from Turkey, and they also learn that not all Muslims are terrorists."
The impact of ObamaCare on the family-owned business would depend on the exact definition of "seasonal worker," since Santa's Village opens for the Christmas season, starting before Thanksgiving and doesn't close until its New Year's Eve extravaganza, Gainer pointed out.
Kuster said that understanding the concerns of small businesses is particularly important to her because she serves on the House Small Business Committee.
"My goal is that everyone have access to affordable health care, no matter how we get there," she explained. "We all pay higher insurance premiums if some people aren't covered, and we want to be sure that young healthy people are included," the freshman Congresswoman said.
The park's most popular attraction, the "Ho, Ho, H2O" water feature, was financed with a guaranteed low-interest loan under the federal stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Park's second water feature — a triple slide — opened earlier this summer.
Kuster noted in a one-on-one interview outside the "Reindeer Rendezvous" building that Santa's Village was her 20th visit to a New Hampshire business in her "Congress at Your Company" series since being sworn in on Jan. 3.
"I know that supporting good jobs is very important in the North Country," she said. "Statewide, the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.1 percent but it unfortunately remains higher in Coös County.
"Tourism and hospitality, the state's second-largest industry, is critical in the North Country and throughout New Hampshire, and Santa's Village is a major factor in this region," Kuster said.
Many people move to New Hampshire to start businesses or to retire because of the positive experiences they have had when they visit tourist attractions, state parks, the WMNF and enjoy other recreational activities or when they went to summer camp, she said.
"It's the quality of life that draws them," Kuster pointed out. Good roads and bridges, including the widening of I-93, are important to supporting tourism and other industries, she continued.
Kuster and her attorney husband, Brad Kuster, have two sons: a 24-year-old who graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover who works in Wyoming, and the other, a 21-year-old Dartmouth student.
Kuster, who is 56 years old, graduated in 1978 from Dartmouth with a degree in Environmental Policy and in 1984 from Georgetown University Law Center.