Business community to weigh in on economic development

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Council considers options this Tuesday.

By Arin McKenna

At this Tuesday's work session, Economic Vitality Administrator Greg Fisher presents council with a range of options for economic development.  Although no action will be taken, staff will look to council for guidance on where to focus the county's limited resources.

As part of his preparation, Fisher presented his preliminary report to the county's Economic Vitality Action Team (EVAT) for feedback. EVAT advises the county administrator on implementation of the Economic Vitality Strategic Plan (EVSP). The EVAT team met last week, as did the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation's (LACDC) MainStreet Futures committee. Both discussed priorities for council to consider during its deliberations.

LACDC Executive Director Kevin Holsapple , who sits on both committees, had some advice for council based on those discussions.

"I think there are a few very important criteria that the council could and should be asking themselves about different courses of action that they'll be discussing Tuesday," Holsapple said. "In evaluating a potential action, they should consider:

•positive impact that an action would have on progress on EVSP goals.

•the proposed amount/percentage of outside investment that would come into the community based on pursuing the action.

•Potential return on investment (in terms of tax dollars generated, investment, community needs met)."

Holsapple stresses that projects should meet as many criteria as possible. "Usually where it becomes very difficult is if people kind of glom onto one narrow perspective in terms of how they're going to decide," Holsapple said. "For it to be effective for the community, you have to take a broader perspective. It can't be on such a narrow range of criteria, or you're not doing good service to the community."

 Holsapple's first criteria, the EVSP has four elements at play. They are:

• Support and retain Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as the area’s bt wealth producing employer.

• Diversify the economic base.

• Increase quality of life opportunities.

• Increase the availability of housing in the county, both affordable and at market rate.

"Something that addresses more deeply those goals should have a higher priority than something that has relatively small chance of impacting those goals," Holsapple said.

Holsapple used the downtown development project proposed by PLACE as an example.

"PLACE is really looking at a project that would have a very positive impact on all four of the EVSP goals," Holsapple said. "So that would seem to me to be something you would count very highly for achieving what we've all agreed needs to be done.

Holsapple said PLACE would also meet his other two criteria, with its nine to one ratio of outside investment to community investment and the potential for increasing both Gross Receipts Tax (GRT) and property tax revenue.

"Different potential actions will have different ways to affect things," Holsapple said. "One of the reason I really liked the PLACE proposal is because it is across the board. It rings bells in every one of those goal categories. "

Holsapple did not suggest that every project needs to meet every criteria. The New Mexico Consortium, for example, does not address affordable housing or quality of life, but it is diversifying the economy and supporting the lab and has already brought in considerable outside investment in both financial and human resources.  The Research Park leveraged an $800,000 grant into an investment of over $12 million.

The Research Park also fills Holsapple's third criteria of bringing return on investment in terms of tax dollars generated from ongoing activity. Holsapple said the tax dollars the development has generated since it was built in 2001 far exceeds the initial investment.

"There is also return on investment in terms of community needs that are met," Holsapple said. "That almost circles back to the EVSP - community needs for housing, for improved quality of life and so on."

"Trinity Place is a good example, if it is able to be implemented. There was some early investment, but there's no direct investment at all. All of that investment in terms of what is built there is by private entities, and none is by public funds," Holsapple said. "On the other hand, it's going to address a quality of life issue about being able to meet your day-to-day shopping needs locally."

Holsapple said council also has to consider other actions that do not have a direct impact on economic development but are important in attracting private investors. That includes infrastructure investment, such as improving streets and having better signage to help people find their way around the community and to businesses. Policies that affect investors, such as completing the sign code and continuing to streamline the permitting process, also need to be addressed.

"I'm glad this discussion is coming around, because until there are priorities, it makes it harder for people to know what they're supposed to be doing," Holsapple said. "It helps differentiate between all the things they could be doing and helps sort it out into what they should be doing."