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In a recent Guest View Point for the Los Alamos Monitor, my friend and fellow past councilor, Robert Gibson, made an effective case for why we should direct future diversified economic development in Los Alamos toward activities and businesses that maintain our exciting, unique and world-class community. He is exactly right on the WHY, but the ongoing challenge we have is - HOW are we going to do it? I would propose that Los Alamos County use two guiding principles for a specific path forward: 1) Build on our strengths; and 2) Create the businesses and jobs first, then let the urban village follow. Let’s consider one specific way that this concept can be readily implemented in our town.
What is our strength? Los Alamos is a technical town – and certainly perceived as such by the outside world. So it would be reasonable to recognize that we are a town that values an economic base built around supporting the businesses and industries that rely on technically challenging concepts. Today’s technical world is expanding into areas far afield from LANL’s weapons research. Some of these emerging markets are solar power, wind power, development of a Smart Grid, including supporting individual components such as control systems, switching, real time power monitoring, smart electric meters and customer service, fiber optic communications, the Tres Amigas Project transmission hub, small modular reactors, advanced security systems and computer simulations for training and research, to name but a few. And therein lies our strength.
As new concepts grow into production, this country is facing a critical need to recruit, train and deploy the technical workforce to install, operate and maintain these new products. Training is critical, and effective delivery of this training requires a special approach, special knowledge and a good location. Enter Los Alamos!
The type of training I am referring to is not “college degree;” it is simply skill- based training requiring technical aptitude and hands-on practice. The possibilities are huge for Los Alamos, and the best part is that the vision can be implemented using a scope that can start small and grow, and with a schedule that is flexible, based on success.
Here is the vision:
Los Alamos becomes a Technical Training Center of Excellence. Infrastructure is developed to match the growing training programs to be offered, which will be based on needs requirements defined by new emerging markets and as specified by the participating companies. The need is nationwide.
Implementing the vision appears to be a natural for Los Alamos. The space required for classrooms and laboratories is not extensive. The trainers become Center employees, bringing jobs into Los Alamos.
There are additional jobs available in the ramp-up to training delivery: course materials need to be developed and instructors must be qualified. There are variants to job-specific training which can be considered: continuing training and skill enhancement for workers already certified; career- changing training for displaced workers; qualification training for union skills.
Students provide a continuing and diverse boost to the Los Alamos economy. With relatively short training sessions, there is a continuous turnover of students who require housing (hotels), food and entertainment. The majority of students may receive some form of financial assistance: many will be sponsored by their current employer, some will be eligible for government grants or loans and others may be helped by establishing a community scholarship fund. In this way, Los Alamos County will stand out as a diverse engine for economic development and increasing jobs in Northern New Mexico.
This vision for Los Alamos is not theoretical – variants are already happening in other parts of the country, where shortages of technically trained workers are anticipated.
It may even be possible for Los Alamos to join in partnerships (public or private) with successful enterprises in order to get financial backing to get the Center up and running.
The vision for a Los Alamos Technical Training Center of Excellence is only one way where Los Alamos can get specific in moving forward to diversify our economy. I strongly support using the two guiding principles mentioned earlier for formulating plans, and as I always try to emphasize, the critical factor is to get moving!
Ralph Phelps is a former county councilor and the chair of the Northern New Mexico Citzens Advisory Board.