High incomes earn Hill top rank

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By Gabriel Vasquez

Los Alamos continues to lead the nation in its per-capita population of affluent Americans, according to a Nielsen study released Tuesday.

Two Connecticut locations, Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk and Torrington, were second and third in the study. Six California communities ranked among the top 20.

The study defines “affluent American households” as those with income and income producing assets (IPA) in excess of $100,000, a category birthed locally by the city’s largest employer, Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We have a lot of highly skilled people that draw large salaries,” said Kevin Holsapple, executive director of the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation. “There are not many people here that are unemployed. There are more in a retired status that still have very significant means.”

Despite the nationwide economic slump, Holsapple said that demographically, not a lot has changed in Los Alamos over the last few years. The largest earners continue to be “highly compensated” workers at “high levels of federal employment.”

Subtract a couple hundred thousand people from the other cities mentioned, and Los Alamos becomes somewhat of a gold mine.

“I don’t think the polarization of incomes is as pronounced here,” Holsapple said. “We just have a very big band of upper-middle class and middle class that stays very stable.”

Similarly, Steve Lynne, Los Alamos County financial director, said that Los Alamos’ top-ranking is in large part due to the number of Ph.D.s employed by the laboratory.

“It’s just a matter of proportions,” Lynne said. “We have a very large concentration of highly paid individuals. Relative to everyone else, this really hasn’t changed.”

According to the study, 22 million households in the U.S. are now earning more than $100,000, a 23-percent increase from a decade ago, adjusted for inflation. This demographic now makes up for 19 percent of all U.S. households.

But Los Alamos has evolved into more than just a technology-hub for the rich, Holsapple said. There is still a significant part of the population that “just isn’t in that range.”

He said that a large focus should be placed on looking for ways to “help those people have a good living and an equal chance to live in our community.”

In addition to accommodating for the needs of residents of varying incomes, Holsapple said local business owners, retailers and shoppers need to make adjustments to the waning economy and rising fuel prices to ensure that Los Alamos remains competitive in the national market.

“It’s a very tough environment for our retailers here,” he said. “We need to increase the variety of stores and things that can be purchased. People will spend less on gas and have less of an environmental impact as they do their shopping. We face a challenge to increase the retail opportunities in Los Alamos.”

He added that the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce plans to run an ad at the Reel Deel Theater to promote shoppers to spend their money locally and help retailers “weather out the whole economic situation in the country.”

The planned Trinity Place retail development also has a strong potential for increased economic vitality, Holsapple said.

Newcomers to Nielsen’s yearly “Most Affluent” study include number nine, Trenton, N.J., which is renovating many of its housing districts; Juneau, Alaska, ranked 10th; and Easton, Md., a small town maturing into a retirement community, at number 20.