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Getting a lesson in economy development 101

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Class explores strategy for bringing economic development to town

By Kirsten Laskey

What’s the definition of economic development? Whatever you want it to be. Easier said then done as the current Leadership Los Alamos class discovered on Feb. 19.

The class gathered in the Research Park, rolled up their sleeves and set to work on pegging a definition and strategy for bringing economic development to Los Alamos.

This wasn’t just an exercise, the ideas generated during the meeting will be included in public input as the county council works on updating its 17-year-old plan, which is now called an economic vitality strategic plan.

Sue Hofmann, who led the session, encouraged everyone to voice their opinions.

“Don’t ever forget this is a democracy,” she said, “the buck stops with you.”

She reminded the class that economic development is different in every community and involves numerous groups including local government, special groups such as the chamber of commerce, independent contractors and individual citizens.

To help provide the county council with opinions, the Leadership Los Alamos class got some guidance from an outside source. Roger Brooks of Destination Development, Inc. in Seattle, Wash., provided an assessment of the community last April.

His presentation was recorded and was shown to the class.

Brooks suggested several rules Los Alamos should abide by when marketing itself to others. Be different, specific and experimental; remember that brands are built on products and perceptions are formed based on what people think of you, not what you say you are. Community must offer something for everyone and keep in mind that logos and slogans are not a brand.

In fact, a slogan should just serve as the exclamation point in a marketing strategy.

Mike Wismer, county council chair, said this is a task the county is tackling.

There are things working in the county’s favor. He said the population in the county is stable at 18,150 and Los Alamos was able to pretty much sail through the recession.

The risk, however, is that the majority of the revenue comes through the one source, Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We have a lot of eggs in one basket,” Wismer said.

Additionally, there is limited land for new businesses and opportunities, he said.

The goal for the economic vitality strategic plan, Wismer said, is to support and retain Los Alamos National Laboratory, diversify the economic base, increase the quality of life opportunities and increase availability of housing.

To get a more detailed picture of the economy in Los Alamos, a panel of business owners participated in the class.

Joan Duran, owner of De Colores restaurant, Ron Selvage, owner of the Best Western Hilltop House and Bandelier Grill, Liz Thomson, owner of Cook’n In Style, and Cindi Wells, the owner Pet Pangaea, discussed the trials that goes into owning a local business.

Owning a business, Thomson said, is really a business owning you. “It takes your body, soul and spirit.”

And local entrepreneurs could use a little help in this overwhelming relationship.

Wells commented that, “in general the county could help by offering incentives to new and exciting businesses.”

She added it would be great if the county could also assist with existing infrastructure. Leadership Los Alamos participants discovered during the session that anything from expanding a business to dealing with a leaking roof can be a monumental expense.

Selvage added that local businesses always need local support. Even if the first experience at a local store or restaurant is not great, he said, “be patient, and give people a second chance.”