WILLIAMSTOWN >> Twenty years after graduating from Williams College, Jason Hoch is right back where he started — at least geographically speaking.
Sitting at the desk of his new office as town manager of Williamstown, Hoch can see the top-floor window of the Hopkins House dorm room he lived in as a senior at Williams. In fact, he noted, there's likely a copy of a marketing study he conducted for the town as a Williams student filed away somewhere in Town Hall.
"At the time I had no idea that local government was the direction I was headed," he said.
For Hoch, it's been a lot of years and a lot of miles between then and now. And he knows a bit more than that young man who left Williamstown in 1995.
For the past 17 years, Hoch has been working in local government in New Hampshire, as the lead administrator in Litchfield, Plaistow and Littleton. At the same time, he has served as board member of the New Hampshire Main Street Center, the chairman of a local affordable housing nonprofit organization and on the boards of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce, Littleton Area Industrial Development Corp. and the Littleton Regional Hospital.
He also served as co-chairman of the Littleton and Profile School District Regionalization Study Committee, and as chairman of the New Hampshire State Historic Resources Council.
He graduated from Williams with a degree in political economy and from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government.
Hoch has been on the job for a couple of months now, taking over from Peter Fohlin, who retired earlier this year. But it's not the first time he's been back. Over the years, he said, he's been drawn back periodically for one reason or another, such as alumni events or to check out new shows at the Clark Art Institute.
"I have a strong homing instinct," he said.
His experience and knowledge of streetscape design and town planning should be helpful in this stage of Williamstown's evolution, Hoch said.
But that's just part of the job. "A position like this is 10 percent technical ability and 90 percent relationships," Hoch said.
And he's been busy building those too. He's been to several community events, has been very busy making the rounds to local shops and businesses, and meeting with groups of community members.
Jane Patton, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said Hoch has already had an impact.
"I could not be happier with Jason Hoch as town manager," she said. "His experience, coupled with his love for Williamstown, have already proven to be an asset. Jason has done a remarkable job getting up to speed quickly, and most notably with his staff in Town Hall. He has also been immersing himself in town, attending many social and business events."
First on his list of challenges, Hoch said, is to continue the discussions surrounding the need for a new high school and district regionalization.
"We can't be afraid of having those discussions," he said.
He also wants to help the town come to terms with how to best position its assets for its strongest markets — college alumni, cultural tourists and families visiting the school.
"We want them to come back here more often and help people see that it really is viable for them to relocate here," Hoch said. "We need to sell that quality of life that we have here."