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Economic vitality looms brighter

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Council approves Economic Vitality Strategic Plan

By Carol A. Clark

A plan to set the town on a course toward affordable housing, retail expansion, beautification, laboratory collaboration and more was approved by Los Alamos County Council Monday evening.

Following some two hours of discussion and public comment, councilors approved 7-0 an Economic Vitality Strategic Plan Monday evening.

The approved plan takes into consideration input received from the public from Jan. 21 through Feb. 24. During this time, the county held two public meetings in White Rock and received 35 e-mails from residents stating their preferences for managed access of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, County Administrator Tony Mortillaro said, adding that the Mainstreet Futures Committee and the members of Leadership Los Alamos also weighed in on the plan.

“As we move forward in our economic development within the county this will be used as a road map,” Council Chair Mike Wismer said.

Executive Director Kevin Holsapple of the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation has been involved in the development of the Economic Vitality Strategic Plan and briefed the council on its four key goals.

The first goal is supporting and sustaining Los Alamos National Laboratory and there’s a number of ways the community can help, he said.

The second goal is to diversify the economic base.

The third goal is to increase the quality of life.

The fourth goal is to increase the availability of housing in the community, modern rental housing and affordable senior and workforce housing.

“The process for the group that worked on developing the plan in coming to the four key goal areas was started with the county’s adopted vision and strategic plan statements that have been previously adopted and are in place – these were not invented by the drafting group,” Holsapple said.

The group conducted a SWOT analysis for economic development, which included looking at the community’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT).

The group focused in on those goals that can take best advantage of or build upon local strengths, he said.

“It is critical to read the plan with the recognition of the interrelationship of the four goal areas – no one area is meant to trump or be higher priority than another,” Holsapple said.  

There are a number of important differences in this plan from past plans, he said.

The county does not have a current plan that is in active use. The Economic Vitality Strategic Plan will improve the county’s ability to communicate to citizens, prospective residents and potential investors what the economic priorities of the county are and will provide the basis for aligning actions, services and initiatives toward strategic goals.

A targeted list for diversification is in the newly adopted plan, which the county has never had before, Holsapple said.

The plan calls for making Los Alamos the community of choice for local workforce members, some 40 percent of whom live out of town.  

Establishing goals for population and housing growth also is in the new plan. Holsapple told

councilors no such goals currently exist.

A significant step forward, he said, is the inclusion of an economic vitality action team formed from representatives of entities

that buy into the plan and that have resources for economic development — there is currently no county team or committee that exists for this purpose.

Holsapple prepared several observations regarding the community’s current status relative to jobs, wealth, investment and retail climate.  

“The community has maintained high levels of jobs and employment with 1.71 jobs in the community for each of our citizens in the work force, 16,603 jobs, 9,705 citizens in the workforce and a 3.2 percent unemployment rate,” he said. “The community has maintained high levels of income and wealth with a $102,000 median household income (2008), which continues to be among the highest in the nation and 235 percent higher than the state’s median household income.”

Los Alamos also has maintained a steady increase in the payrolls of local employers, he said.   

Holsapple also told councilors that the county has realized significant private investment during the last 10 to15 years compared to most small rural communities:

• New Holiday Inn Express;

• New office building at Central Park Square;

• 1911 Central major renovation and reuse;  

• 999 Central – mixed office/retail;

• Reel Deal Theater;

• Research Park

building 1;

• Los Alamos Business Center complex;

• Hampton Inn;

• Los Alamos National Bank;

• First Holiday Inn Express; and

• Los Alamos Plaza - to be permitted in the coming weeks.

“If jobs, wealth and investment are the measures of economic vitality, we have held our own pretty nicely through difficult times relative to the plight of most rural communities,” Holsapple said. “We have done this without a strategic plan to coordinate action around and with limited investment of resources in having people working on economic development. The plan suggests that there are some additional things that are important to do such as diversification, quality of life improvements and addressing the question of growth to continue to sustain our base and improve our future. Effectively addressing these additional things will require decisions about how much resources should be put to achieving the plan and will benefit from coordinating action aligned with the plan.”

Wismer agreed saying, “As I said at the beginning of the meeting and what I still think is this plan is a road map – It’s a good place to start, now we have to get on with the more difficult task of implementation…all of these things require resources and we need to decide which ones to implement and get on with it.”

The economic vitality action team is scheduled to brief the council with progress reports at regular intervals.