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Executive Council shelves $4 million in proposed contracts for tourism photography

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Executive Council shelves $4 million in proposed contracts for tourism photography

May 15, 2024 | 5:30 pm ET
By Ethan DeWitt
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Executive Council shelves $4 million in proposed contracts for tourism photography
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Department of Business and Economic Affairs Commissioner Taylor Caswell addresses the Executive Council to present $4 million in state contracts for tourism photography on May 15, 2024. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The Executive Council shelved an attempt by the Department of Business and Economic Affairs Wednesday to spend more than $4 million in federal money to pay for professional photographs of New Hampshire’s seasons. 

In a series of four proposed contracts, the department sought to spend the money – which comes from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – to pay four photography companies to develop “still images, b-roll video, and produced video segments,” according to a written explanation to the council from Commissioner Taylor Caswell.

But a number of councilors – as well as Gov. Chris Sununu – raised objections over the price tag. The contracts have been tabled, and Councilor David Wheeler, a Republican of Milford, has urged the department to find better ways to spend the money. 

“I’d like to know: What are we doing with $4 million taking pictures?” said Wheeler.

“What are we getting for $3,000 a day out of this?” asked Councilor Cinde Warmington, a Concord Democrat. 

Under the contracts, the companies would be tasked with creating content to cover New Hampshire’s seven tourism regions in all four seasons. The content is meant to serve as a free resource for tourism businesses in the state to use in their promotional materials, and could be used by the state in its advertising efforts, too, Caswell said. 

Caswell’s department assigned different areas of the state to different contractors. Brian Nevins, a former staff photographer for Surfer and Snowboard magazines, would be awarded $1.3 million to produce content in the Lakes Region, the Dartmouth and Lake Sunapee areas, and the Seacoast. Portland Post Production LLC, which has worked with the University of New Hampshire, L.L. Bean, and Saucony, would be given $860,000 to focus on the Merrimack Valley and Monadnock areas. 

Meanwhile, Warden Co., which has worked with the department on winter photography in the past, would be awarded $860,000 to take photos and video for the Great North Woods and White Mountains areas. And Dennis Welsh, a professional photographer and videographer, would be paid just under $1.1 million to develop general content for the VisitNH seasonal campaign. 

Not all councilors appeared opposed. “The shelf life: You’re going to get five, six years out of these images, correct?” Councilor Janet Stevens, a Republican of Rye, asked Caswell. “This is an investment that could span a decade moving forward,” she said. 

Defending the contracts, Caswell said the federal funds have been awarded to the state for very specific purposes, and that when they put the contracts out to bid, the amount reflects the offers received. 

“These were as a result the best combination of quality and cost that we saw,” he said. He said the department chose to split up the money into different contracts so that no one photography business would be tasked with developing content for the whole state.

He also said the department is running out of time to spend down the money in that program. 

“I wouldn’t necessarily be able to guarantee that we’ll be able to come up with an additional program (in time),” Caswell said, responding to Wheeler’s suggestion that they spend the money otherwise. 

The contracts can come off the table and receive an up or down from the council in future meetings. But Sununu agreed with councilors that the services were too high, even if they did come from federal funds. 

“I have an iPhone,” the governor quipped. “And I’m like 20 bucks.”